Police Move Exercises to City Outskirts

Hundreds of police officers will begin training exercises in methods to suppress unruly public demonstrations Thursday. The venue for the ma­neuvers, however, has been moved to the out­skirts of Phnom Penh amid criticism the exercises were likely to intimidate the city’s residents, police officials said on Tuesday. 

The operation, which will see hundreds of police officers practice nonlethal anti-riot tactics ahead of the scheduled July 27 election, will be held at Kork Kneang village in Dangkao district, Director-General of National Police Hok Lundy said on Tuesday.

Hok Lundy announced last week at a municipal meeting that the exercises would be conducted in the center of Phnom Penh with hundreds of police and military police training with electric batons, wooden clubs, riot shields and equipment for crossing barbed-wire barriers.

Cambodia’s top police official said the training is crucial to prepare for possible anti-government protests as the election period approaches.

However, news of the planned exercises was criticized by In­terior Ministry and military police officers who claimed the training was aimed more at “flexing muscle” than increasing police officers’ anti-riot capabilities.

Opposition party members also said the show of government force on Phnom Penh’s streets would scare city residents ahead of the election.

Interior Ministry Spokesman General Khieu Sopheak denied on Tuesday that the training exercise was relocated because of their possible negative impact on the city’s image, or its residents.

The training was taken outside the city to prevent traffic congestion, Khieu Sopheak said.

“We need space and a place that will not interrupt traffic and the people,” Khieu Sopheak said on Monday.

“How can the people be afraid, because we are the national police?” Khieu Sopheak said, adding that the training will take place at a barracks used by the Interior Ministry’s Intervention Police force.

But details of the exercises still remain unclear among officials who were expected to take part.

National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha said on Monday that he has received no orders or information regarding the exercises.

Hok Lundy has said they would be dual exercises between police and military police.

“I do not get the news yet,” Sao Sokha said.

Newly installed Municipal Military Police Commander Seng Song also said he has not received orders about the joint, anti-riot training.

“[Hok Lundy] has not told me yet. But if he invites our force, I might take part,” said Seng Song.

Deputy Municipal Police Chief Seng Vanna also said he did not know about the training plans.

Pre-election security was also the focus of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s closing speech at the Interior Ministry’s 5th annual conference on Tuesday.

Hun Sen said Cambodia’s international image had peaked in recent years and was at its pinnacle with the successful hosting of the recent Asean summits. But that image plummeted to new depths following the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots, he said.

Hun Sen told police officials to ensure the election period was safe and peaceful.

“I’ve talked many times that…during the election it does not depend on which political parties win but we have to assure the peaceful and safe climate,” Hun Sen said.

(Additional reporting by Kevin Doyle)

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