Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng said the use of force against demonstrators and opposition activists would only play into the opposition’s narrative that the government was violent and oppressive.
Sar Kheng, who was speaking at the gubernatorial swearing-in ceremony in Pailin province on Monday, said law enforcement should not use excessive force because the opposition was using it to project the government as violent.
“When we respond violently and forcefully, they will gain and it is what they want,” said Sar Kheng, at the swearing-in of new Pailin Governor Ban Sreymom, who is the spouse of former Khmer Rouge commander Y Chhean.
“[They] want us to use violence so that they can amplify it and justify reasons to oppose the government – that requires our officials to solve problems in a non-violent manner.”
Sar Kheng’s speech comes months after security personnel used excessive force to quell small and peaceful protests in Phnom Penh, following the arrest of jailed unionist Rong Chhun in July. Phnom Penh district guards have also shoved and used force against relatives of jailed, former CNRP officials, and activists during peaceful protests since June.
In a report released on Friday, local rights group Licadho highlighted the government’s deployment of security personnel – who do not have legal enforcement authority – as a means for dispersing protestors.
One of the recent cases of excessive force was when a district security guard from Prampi Makara district was seen flinging a protester to the ground near Phnom Penh Municipal Court, and right outside National Police Chief Neth Savoeun’s home, in early September.
The protestor, 48-year-old Seng Chanthorn, is a member of “Friday Women of Cambodia,” a group of women who are demanding the releases of their family members with links to the CNRP. Seng Chanthorn said she had never attempted to hurt anyone else and was surprised when she was on the receiving end of excessive force.
“We never wanted any kind of problem with the security forces, courts, government, or anyone. We are peaceful. They instead are always the ones who use violence.”
The dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party has also alleged that there had been at least 20 cases of violent assaults by unknown thugs on former members and supporters this year.