National Police Commissioner Neth Savoeun promised more practice suppressing demonstrations for officers across the country last week, while closing out what he said was the first round of training in Kompong Speu province.
The plans follow a recent threat of mass demonstrations from the CNRP should the government arrest acting party president Kem Sokha, who was convicted earlier this month for refusing to appear in court, but remains holed up in the party’s headquarters.
At the National Police’s training center in Kompong Speu on Thursday, General Savoeun closed what he called “the first training course to prevent demonstrations” for police.
Video footage of the three-month course posted to the National Police website shows officers dressed in riot gear fending off people posing as violent “protesters”—their shields in precise formations as they fire stun grenades and smoke bombs into the crowd.
Citing protests that turned violent in the wake of 2013’s disputed national elections, Gen. Savoeun accused demonstrators of breaking their promises to remain peaceful.
“[N]ormal demonstrations turned into riots. So our police have to know clearly, first, about demonstrations, second, about respecting the law and third, how to resolve the situation,” he said.
The commissioner said the course for the next batch of officers was pending. “I consider those who have come here to learn to be trainers,” he said. “When we go back to our provinces, we have to continue with more training.”
Rights groups regularly accuse police of using excessive force against protesters. In January 2014, military police shot into a crowd of rioting protesters in Phnom Penh, killing at least five.
Some 280 officers from nine provinces took part in the first course, which was supported by advisers from the Vietnamese National Police.
Though some were dressed in army-like fatigues for the training, Kompong Speu police chief Keo Pisey said the graduates were all police officers. “The military were just honored guests” at the closing ceremony, he said on Tuesday.