More than one thousand military police officers on Saturday participated in simulated exercises designed to prepare them should demonstrations over the contested results of last month’s national election break out, officials said Sunday.
The officers, clad in bulletproof vests, were trained in crowd control and riot response tactics, playing out possible scenarios of how to react to mass protests, including the use of shields and electric batons.
“We trained them in our strategy to prevent mass demonstrations,” military police spokesman Kheng Tito said Sunday of the exercises that took place at Phnom Penh’s Olympic Stadium.
“If the demonstrators use violence, we will crack down on them, but without weapons. If they use weapons, we will use our weapons against them,” he said.
Videos of the training sessions posted on Facebook show unarmed men in uniform pretending to be protesters try to push back a wall of military police officers holding large shields and batons.
The opposition CNRP has repeatedly threatened protests since both parties claimed to have won the July 28 vote, with the CNRP alleging massive fraud. However, they have stipulated demonstrations would only be called as a last resort.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann reiterated Sunday that a mass protest would only be called if negotiations over an independent investigation into election irregularities broke down.
“There is no date for a demonstration, it’s the last choice and for the time being we still have room for a peaceful solution,” Mr. Sovann said, adding that any demonstrations by the party would be peaceful.
However, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said that it was the government’s duty to ensure that the military was trained to react appropriately to protests.
“We have to make sure that everything remains under control,” he said.
“I have no idea [for] when to expect riots—Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha know,” Mr. Siphan added, referring to the CNRP’s president and vice-president.
The military police training comes amid a general step-up in security in the wake of election, which has seen armored personnel carriers deployed outside Phnom Penh.
Last week, tanks and rocket launchers arrived at the Sihanoukville Autonomous Port, but the government has said the shipment had been scheduled for some time and was not election-related.
Independent political analyst Chea Vannath said Sunday that the simulation exercises were not necessarily a bad thing.
“Demonstrators and police need to be trained on how to have a peaceful demonstration. If they are not trained, then it can get out of control, and then it can be ugly,” she said.