SAMAKKI MEANCHEY DISTRICT, Kompong Chhnang Province – Two hundred Military Police cadets on Wednesday displayed the power of the force’s arsenal at a weapons demonstration, while members of the unit continued to patrol Phnom Penh.
In front of military police Commander General Sao Sokha and scores of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces officers, the trainees, in their first public weapons engagement, unloaded live ammunition from antitank recoilless rifles, mortars, and heavy machine guns.
“This training exercise makes them [the cadets] sweat,” said Gen. Sokha in an address at the conclusion of the demonstration. “This sweating is the action of those who love the nation and are ready to fight against any turmoil to protect the Cambodian kingdom and our people.”
In the wake of July’s disputed national election, military police have become an almost permanent presence on the streets of Phnom Penh and at opposition demonstrations, and yesterday’s show of force comes just a week before the CNRP’s planned mass rally at Freedom Park on October 23.
When questioned on the timing of yesterday’s weapons exercise, Gen. Sokha said it was merely a coincidence.
“The training of the military police is not concerned with dry or rainy season, political [deadlock] or not. War can happen regardless of day or night from foreigners…they can invade us anytime,” Gen. Sokha said, adding that the heavy police presence in Phnom Penh was to protect, not intimidate, people.
“It is true that there is a strong military police presence [in Phnom Penh] but they are there to organize the security. They are not present to kill or hurt Khmer people,” he said. “We work to prevent a violent society.”
However, hundreds of military police with riot shields and batons have been deployed to quash peaceful street protests by anti-eviction activists, and even a hunger strike staged by opposition party member Prince Sisowath Thomico. They were also on the front line when live bullets were fired injuring several and killing one 29-year-old man during stone-throwing on Monivong Bridge last month.
Independent political analyst Lao Mong Hay said yesterday that the Military Police’s Kompong Chhnang demonstration and their continued presence in Phnom Penh was the highest level security deployment he had seen since 1998, when post-election deadlock resulted in armed forces opening fire on protesters in front of the old National Assembly.
“The situation doesn’t warrant the heavy security forces that are ruling the streets because the common people have proven that they are peaceful,” Mr. Mong Hay said.
“Even in the bloody clashes of 1998, when monks and laymen were targeted, the forces did their job quickly and the streets returned to normal. This time it is lasting for months.”
Gen. Sokha denied that Military Police were using intimidation tactics and took a swipe at opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who is currently overseas lobbying for international intervention in the political deadlock.
“The normal Khmer people are not afraid of the guns because [many of them] used to be soldiers,” Gen. Sokha said.
“The only one who is afraid is the one who goes overseas and pressures foreign governments to cut aid to the Cambodian people,” the general said.
“He is a slave [to foreign concerns],” he added.