Interior Minister Sar Kheng on Wednesday warned local authorities in Cambodia not to use armed forces to violently disperse protesters.
The statement came after mixed security forces attacked demonstrators in Preah Sihanouk and Kratie provinces, leaving at least one seriously injured with a gunshot wound.
In his role as interior minister, Kheng oversees Cambodia’s Unified Command structure, which coordinates the security forces’ response to “public order” incidents such as those in Kratie and Preah Sihanouk. Each Unified Command is presided over by the provincial governor, who reports directly to Kheng.
Kheng said: “Now we have to be clear about who is the administration and who is the law enforcement. They used authorities to enforce the law, in that case, police and military police are proper. But they used the military. It’s wrong. We do not use military forces to carry out court orders.”
He went on to question whether the provincial administrations understood the law.
A member of each provincial Unified Command is the relevant military region commander.
A land dispute in Prey Nop district, Preah Sihanouk province, boiled over in January, leading authorities to deploy soldiers, police and military police, who used live ammunition on protesters.
The shooting prompted a group of former opposition politicians to write an open letter to the EU outlining the events.
In a separate incident last year, at least three locals in Snoul district, Kratie province, were shot and many others were beaten when security forces attacked demonstrators there.
Meas Ny, a social commentator, said the security arrangements in place relied on “having a powerful person as a backbone in each region” rather than adhering to government policy.
He said if the government did not take steps to review the use of force by the military against protesters, “this will create injustice and more violence in the future, and more anger from the people.”