Three Shot as Each Side Trades Taunts
Police on Wednesday morning scuffled with hundreds of demonstrators around the US Embassy in a chaotic chase that ended with three shootings and at least one serious beating.
The demonstration became violent when lines of riot police and military police armed with electric batons and AK-47s began a sweep just after 9 am to push the hundreds, maybe thousands, of demonstrators out of the streets around the US Embassy.
Demonstrators threw rocks and taunted police, generally staying one block away from the police lines. A UN human rights worker on the scene said it was “very obvious” police sparked the crowd to become mob-like. A military analyst monitoring the events, however, said both sides were guilty of provocation.
The demonstrators, including students and monks, were protesting the July 26 election results, but clashed violently with police for the third straight day.
There were also initial reports of a monk being beaten to death during the police sweep and picked up by an ambulance connected to the French Red Cross. But no body has been found and the reports have thus far proved unfounded.
On Monday, one man was shot dead when police fired on protesters in an effort to disperse them from the front of the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana.
The Cambodia office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights condemned acts of violence by both sides “which have occurred during government operations since Monday to disperse peaceful protesters by force.”
Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng said Wednesday that Sam Rainsy’s expression of democracy had gone too far. Deputy director of National Police, Yeng Marady, said the crackdowns would continue “step by step.”
Demonstrators remained defiant, even jubilant, throughout the day. “Their only hope is the US Embassy to send their message to the world,” said one Cambodian-American at the protest.
In the first melee between police and demonstrators, an Associated Press cameraman was hit in the back of the head by a rock and an embassy official said one man was severely beaten on the head. Journalists took cameraman Jerry Harmer to a private clinic for a head wound.
Embassy officials took the beaten demonstrator into the embassy for treatment by medical staff there, the embassy official said. A bloody handprint was left on the wall of the embassy.
Six demonstrators, one of whom was bleeding heavily from head wounds, were arrested and taken for questioning on a military police truck to RCAF High Command Headquarters on Norodom Boulevard, police said.
The chief of operations for municipal military police, Pung Savarith, said the men were arrested for Harmer’s injury.
In addition, he said two policemen were injured by marbles shot from protesters’ slingshots.
Just after 10 am, riot police used water cannons from up to three fire trucks before shooting two monks in a stand-off on Street 240 near the intersection of Street 63, according to witnesses.
Bystander Chen Hong, 19, sustained a bullet wound in his hand.
Police ordered the dozens of monks leading a march from the Royal Palace to the embassy to back off. When the monks sat down, the police fired several AK-47 rounds.
“We didn’t do anything violent against people, we only walked in peace toward the US Embassy to demand help for the deaths of monks,” monk Pung Sovan said. Many people believe that several monks have been killed in the clashes this week, but no such deaths have been confirmed.
One UN rights worker at the scene said police shot four times at the rock-throwing demonstrators, felling two monks.
He then told other demonstrators to take the wounded monks to Preah Sihanouk Hospital, he said. A 21-year-old monk ended up in Visal Sok Clinic with a bullet in his shoulder, although the injury is not considered life-threatening, rights workers at the hospital said. Doctors had removed the bullet, they said.
Kin Nath, a 25-year-old monk, was in Preah Kossamak Hospital with a bullet wound in his upper left leg. The bullet entered his right buttock, ruptured his bladder and exited the left side of his groin, hospital staff said.
His condition was serious but stable after losing a lot of blood, hospital staff said. He was set to undergo surgery in the afternoon to repair his bladder and clean the blood clot, a doctor said.
Rights workers from Licadho were lobbying to move the monks to a private hospital, fearing police may find them in a public hospital and arrest them.
Police—who swept the area on government orders—withdrew after the shootings as demonstrators began to break up, Pung Savarith said. The job of protecting the embassy was left to 30 Interior Ministry police, he said.
By 2 pm, hundreds, maybe thousands, of demonstrators had reassembled on the western edge of the US Embassy. Propaganda handed out to the crowds used nationalist language, saying, “We must not surrender…to the Vietnamese invasion.”
Military police trucks circulated throughout the city, blaring messages appealing to people “not to join in demonstrations which destabilize the country.”
After 5 pm, several armed policemen and a group of about 20 plainclothes men carrying bamboo sticks tried to run off the crowds. “We are here to disperse the demonstrators, to keep them from destroying public property,” said a man who would only identified himself as chief of an “intervention team from the city and commune.”
The men left after a 10-minute chase and a few shots were fired in the air. Demonstrators alleged that the men did not speak fluent Khmer and were thugs paid 20 million riel to break up the demonstration. The two sides did not trade any blows.
The demonstration began winding down after dark with no violence reported, although truckloads of armed police units were seen in the vicinity. Human rights organizations were reporting four seriously injured and two missing after the morning sweep.
The UN human rights office said Wednesday that police beat one monk to death in the clashes.
But witnesses, ambulance workers, Red Cross officials and Calmette Hospital staff denied that a monk had been beaten to death and picked up. “As far as we have investigated since this morning, we have not found any body,” a French Embassy official said Wednesday evening.
The director of the UN human rights office, Rosemary McCreery, said Wednesday evening investigators were still working to find and identify a body.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara, Touch Rotha, Jerry Redfern and Kimsan Chantara)