National Military Police Commander Sao Sokha on Tuesday painted a rosy picture of the country during a ceremony in Phnom Penh to celebrate the 22nd anniversary of a wing of the armed forces that has been routinely called upon to crush dissent.
Hundreds of officers fell into formation at the military police’s headquarters in Tuol Kok district to listen to General Sokha outline the previous year’s achievements.
“We celebrate the 22nd anniversary of the National Military Police at a time that Cambodia has peace, political stability, security, public order and economic growth of 7 percent,” he said.
Going on to cite the most significant achievements of the military police over the past year, he said that 175 officers were promoted, while 1,933 suspected criminals were arrested by members of the force and sent to court.
After General Sokha finished speaking, Pol Saroeun, commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces, stood up to praise the military police.
“Military police have the best bodies and hearts,” he said, “and fulfill their duties…to save villagers from disasters and show tough adherence to…the government’s orders.”
The military police are routinely used to block marches and suppress protests. At the height of anti-government demonstrations in January last year, military police shot and killed at least five garment workers and injured more than 40 others after a protest turned violent in Phnom Penh’s industrial outskirts.
“The gendarmerie is completely unreformed,” Brad Adams, Asia Director for Human Rights Watch, said in an email Tuesday.
“Despite killing protesters last year and a long record of abuses since its creation by France…its leadership remains the same and there are no serious internal or external accountability mechanisms,” he wrote.
Thun Saray, president of rights group Adhoc, said the military police was established to watch over the armed forces, but has strayed from its mandate.
“Sometime around 1995 or 1996, this idea was amended so the military police was monitoring citizens and has now become part of the judicial police,” he said, adding that this shift has created friction between the two forces.
“Police have told me of jealousy and competition because it seems that the military police have more power, more say, and also receive better equipment to do the job that should be the job of the police,” Mr. Saray said.
Deputy National Police Commissioner Mok Chito, however, said there were no hard feelings between the forces.
“Military police have a good relationship with our police,” he said.