The country’s military police unit is recruiting 1,000 new officers.
But, with the opposition planning to hold a banned rally on Sunday, a leading human rights worker, Am Sam Ath of Licadho, says the hiring call looks like a muscle-flexing move designed to intimidate citizens.
According to a document obtained Friday, the National Military Police’s sub-commission for Military Police Recruitment is hiring 1,000 new officers to replace officers who retired, died or became disabled.
The document, dated March 20 and signed by sub-commission chairman Lieutenant General Teng Chhuon, states that the military police needs 900 men and 100 women. Those who are selected will wear the rank of sergeant.
“Applicants should be between the ages of 18 and 25, have at least graduated from high school, be physically strong and healthy,” the notice says.
“[And] be loyal to the nation, motherland, and do not engage in any suspected criminal offenses,” it states. It adds that the recruitment drive comes after a February 26 military recruitment directive.
Sub-commission member Lieutenant Colonel Prak Sideth said that new recruits would “help the nation.” He said those who apply must be free of liver and sexually transmitted disease and tuberculosis.
It is only the second time such a recruitment drive has taken place.
According to Military Police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito, 500 people were recruited in 2011. He said training will last 18 months and be conducted in Kandal province. He declined to say how many officers are employed by the unit at present.
“We do not have enough forces to work, and now there are new districts and provinces, so we need more military police,” he said, referring to the creation of three new districts in Phnom Penh and of Tbong Khmum province in January.
The presence of military police on city streets has increased since December. In January, military police officers opened fire on garment workers striking on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Street, killing five.
Asked if new recruits will be trained to suppress protests, Brig. Gen. Tito said the force follows commands and the law.
“Basically, the military police unit implements the law, and its responsibility and duty is to protect the state and to provide security and public peace for people and social order,” he said.
“Regarding the crackdown, that was something where we implemented the law, because we work to provide security,” Brig. Gen. Tito said. “We are not training them to crack down on people and legal demonstrations but we crack down on those who commit offenses.”
But Mr. Sam Ath, who is the technical supervisor for Licadho, said the recent use of excessive force indicates that military police are “trained to beat up protesters.”
He said that the decision to bolster the military police should be read as a warning.
“Now it is the period of political deadlock and everything is very complicated, so it is not the right time to recruit new military police.”
“Lately, the military police have engaged with many violent crackdowns, using heavy force to crack down on demonstrations and protesters,” the human rights worker said.
This “makes people think that this recruitment is a means of showing muscle and warning against future demonstrations.”