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Interior Minister Lauds Police Crackdown on ‘Insurgents’

Cambodian Prime Minister and President of Cambodian People's Party, CPP, Hun Sen, center, walks together with Deputy President Sar Kheng during the arrival for their party's congress in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Friday, Jan. 19, 2018.

Minister of Interior Sar Kheng appeared to praise police operations during a crackdown on the main opposition party last year.

Cambodia’s Minister of Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Thursday said the National Police achieved success last year in cracking down on an “illegal insurgent group” that had intended to topple the legitimate government of the long-ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

Speaking at a ceremony to mark the 74th anniversary of the formation of the Cambodia’s National Police, Sar Kheng did not identify the supposed insurgent group by name, but appeared to refer to the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), whose members have fled or were arrested after the party was banned ahead of last year’s general elections.

“I admire and offer a high evaluation of the achievements and successes that National Police forces made in 2018,” he told a crowd of gathered police officers.

“Particularly in controlling and solving all security matters with professionalism, preventing and mitigating tricks and activities that were harmful to the society that the illegal insurgents caused with the ill intention of toppling Cambodia’s legitimate government, and grabbing power in violation of Cambodia’s constitution and the principles of multiple democracy,” Sar Kheng said.

Human rights groups and Western governments, however, considered the banning of the CNRP, the arrest of its leader Kem Sokha, and arrests and harassment of many other CNRP members last year a death blow to Cambodia’s faltering multiparty democracy, which had been in place since the 1993 peace accords.

Cambodia’s National Police chief Gen. Neth Savoeun told his officers that they had done a good job last year, scoring unspecified “victories” in suppressing a color revolution, protecting national sovereignty, and combating illegal migration and drug trafficking.

Cambodian military and police officers have long been considered highly partisan, with Human Rights Watch warning last year that scores of officers were members of the CPP, some of whom have publicly stated they would resort to violence should the CNRP win the elections.

Government officials, the army and police have at times claimed that the CNRP and other activists aim to carry out supposed illegal, extra-parliamentary actions and mass demonstrations to bring about a “color revolution” against the long-ruling CPP.

Meas Ny, an independent political commentator, told VOA Khmer that such rhetoric from government ministers and the country’s top cop was not based on any evidence about an impending color revolution, while it was considered threatening for the roughly 3 million voters who supported the CNRP in 2013 general elections.

“The government should not forget that… there has not yet been a solution that would relieve the tensions in the minds of these three million people. This is an important issue,” he said.