Warning against demonstrations ahead of the July 27 general election, National Police Director General Hok Lundy announced on Tuesday that hundreds of police officers will undertake protest suppression exercises in Phnom Penh early next month.
Hok Lundy directed a “get tough on protests” message to more than 100 municipal police and military police officials who were the focus of his two-hour security speech at City Hall.
The appearance at City Hall was Hok Lundy’s first in almost a decade.
Cambodia’s most powerful police official also said that rumors of his removal following security lapses around the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots in Phnom Penh were false and he intends to stay in his post until he retires when he is 60 years old.
Opposition party members Tuesday characterized the plans for security exercises as a ploy by the ruling CPP to instill fear in the public ahead of Election Day.
“When a mosquito bites us there is no need to ask advice from the top to slap it…. [The top] gave the green light allowing us to slap the mosquito,” said Hok Lundy, a four-star general.
“Because the big event could happen between now and July, police and military police have been trained about how strong a slap to give,” Hok Lundy said.
“Opposition to the government or other political parties, who wish to gain benefit, could do something in violating the law in order to make an obstacle to the July election,” he said.
“This is their trick that they have thought about. So the preparation for police and military forces are already made.”
Hok Lundy said he did not want Cambodian police to kill violent demonstrators, but wanted police trained, equipped and capable of using tactics similar to riot police in the US, South Korea and Germany.
Foreign countries have been approached to provide Cambodian police with tear gas, Hok Lundy said.
Around 30 police vehicles will take part in the forthcoming exercises in the city, and the 300 police and military police officers taking part will be armed with electric batons, wooden clubs, shields and equipment to cross barbed-wire barriers.
Hok Lundy—who is related to Prime Minister Hun Sen by the marriage of their respective daughter and son—denied the exercises were intended to intimidate political parties or would-be peaceful, demonstrators.
“We aim to show to the nation and international countries that the national police have already prepared good security and safety for the upcoming election,” Hok Lundy said.
Referring to the anti-Thai riots, Hok Lundy said police did not use force to stop the destruction as shooting protesters would have inflamed the situation, which was the intended consequence of the “political extremists” who masterminded the riots, he said.
“The mastermind’s main target is to kill two birds with one arrow. Burn the [Thai] Embassy and companies, and then have Hok Lundy fired from his position,” he said.
However, Hok Lundy also said he will remain in office for 14 years more and that if the Interior Ministry is found to be at fault for the riots, it would mean that co-ministers Sar Kheng and You Hockry must resign first.
Surrounded by heavy security, Interior Ministry bodyguards screened participants with hand-held metal detectors and removed sharp objects—such as pen knives—from audience members.
Sitting center stage, Hok Lundy dominated the meeting, which was nominally presided over by Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha, Commander of RCAF Special Military Region Prum Din and the city’s deputy governors.
Kep Chuktema said after the meeting that the first he knew about the planned exercise was when Hok Lundy announced it in his speech.
“Maybe some people will misunderstand. But this is a very normal thing for police around the world,” Kep Chuktema said.
A CPP member speaking on condition of anonymity characterized the planned exercises as “muscle flexing” by Hok Lundy ahead of the election.
“This is very strange, such training. This is a kind of anti-democratic performance for intimidating and creating an atmosphere of fear in the whole of Cambodia,” said Sam Rainsy Party Cabinet Chief Phi Thach, adding that he knew of no protests being planned.
“[The government] doesn’t know how to deal peacefully with [opposition]. They only know to use violence against those who oppose their politics,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)