About 100 Daun Penh district riot police on Wednesday held exercises in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park in preparation for possible industrial action in a week that garment workers’ unions had called for a mass stay-at-home strike.
Unions had downscaled plans of street protests to a mass stay-away, scheduled to begin Wednesday, but then were divided Tuesday on whether to go ahead with the strikes at all, and nothing materialized Wednesday.
But Daun Penh district officials said they were continuing security preparations in the event that the situation changed.
“We don’t know whether the unions have really suspended the protests, so we are carrying out exercises in case something does occur and if it does, we will crack down,” said first lieutenant Nuth Vichet.
He added that the exercises were also intended to ready police for any disorder breaking out at ongoing, small-scale protests by Boeng Kak community activists over land evictions.
“We are also exercising to wait and see what the Boeng Kak protesters do—when they stop protesting and go back home, we will stop the exercises,” he said.
In the event that any “anarchic demonstrations” are held, up to 10,000 police will be mobilized and stationed at Phnom Penh’s railway station as part of a massive security operation intended to maintain stability in the capital, Mr. Vichet said.
“Hundreds of police are being sent from every province in the country to do training exercises in Phnom Penh.”
The exercises follow Interior Minister Sar Kheng’s decision to reward police officers with more than $54,000 in cash for their efforts in suppressing garment factory protests in early January, when authorities shot five people dead and left dozens more injured.
National Police Spokesman Kirth Chantharith confirmed Wednesday that thousands of police were at the ready should they be required to “restore public order.”
“This is not a crackdown, we have simply asked them to suspend the demonstrations in accordance with the decision by the Phnom Penh municipality and the Interior Ministry,” he said.