Tensions Defused After Commanders’ Release

Defense co-Minister Tea Banh secured the release of two senior military police commanders from jail last week, defusing a potential standoff between rival police units.

Sources confirmed Wednes­day that Tea Banh persuaded the Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Friday to release two deputy commanders of the Phnom Penh Military Police who had been jailed the day before for allegedly ignoring two court summonses.

Colonels Oung Depor and Ouk Mara were arrested Thurs­day by fellow Military Police units. But the court released both men after receiving Tea Banh’s assurances that the men would obey the court’s next summons, Kong Seb, the investigating judge, said Wednesday.

The release of the men de­fused tensions between units of the military police—also known as the gendarmerie—who arrested the men and units loyal to Oung Depor and Ouk Mara, the military adviser said.

One military adviser, speaking on condition of anonymity, de­scribed the arrests as “very sensitive.” The situation on Thursday night was extremely tense around the military police’s municipal headquarters in Tuol Kok district, the adviser said.

Members of the gendarmerie involved in the arrest were hunkered down waiting for an attack by units loyal to the arrested men, the military adviser said.

The adviser said Sao Sokha, deputy national commander in charge of operations, had prepared three intervention units to neutralize a possible firefight. Sao Sokha could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

Ouk Mara declined to comment Wednesday.

Tea Banh, while not saying the arrests were illegal, indicated it is beneath the dignity of the senior commanders of the military police to be detained in prison.

“[The court] should know who Oung Depor and Ouk Mara are,” Tea Banh said Wednesday. “They are high-ranking military police officials, so they cannot be detained if they have not been stripped of their rank.

“That’s why I bailed them out.”

The Phnom Penh Municipal Court was investigating the role of military police officials in last month’s alleged bullying of the judiciary and beating of two government employees. Military police officials have said the two government employees were linked to the May 27 shooting of a fellow military policeman.

When a deputy prosecutor decided there wasn’t enough evidence to hold the men during a hearing June 10, military police allegedly surrounded the courtroom with guns drawn and re-imprisoned the pair.

The case so outraged Minister of Justice Chem Snguon it led to the removal of a senior commander. The Ministry of Defense, on orders from the two prime ministers, on June 27 transferred Mean Eng out of his job as the commander of the 2,000-strong Phnom Penh military police. The ministry also suspended four other members of the elite military unit, including Ouk Mara and Oung Depor.

The court has issued arrest warrants for Ek Vannak, deputy chief of the gendarmerie’s criminal investigation unit, and Brak Vanny, an officer. Both men are wanted by the court for questioning, Kong Seb said.

The military police have been accused by human rights workers and military analysts of systematic involvement in unlawful activities, including armed protection of shipments of contraband.

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