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Sar Kheng defends heightened Pchum Ben security measures over “dark plans” by rebel groups

Khuon Narim / Khmer Times Share:
Interior Minister Sar Kheng. KT/Chor Sokunthea

Interior Minister Sar Kheng yesterday denied that heightened security for Pchum Ben will affect citizens and their plans to pray and offer food at pagodas.

The security measures have been put in place this year to monitor rebels groups who may use the holiday as a smokescreen to plot the possible return of former opposition leader Sam Rainsy on November 9.

Earlier this month, Mr Kheng ordered police officials to mobilise officers to pagodas during Pchum Ben and identify CNRP activists plotting to overthrow the government.

“I would like to inform all governors of Phnom Penh and the provinces that the rebel group has asked their people to visit many pagodas during Pchum Ben days,” he said. “It is a chance for them to meet to discuss their dark plan.”

“I order all police officers to go to pagodas to pray during Pchum Ben and monitor the situation,” Mr Kheng added.

Yesterday, Mr Kheng took to Facebook to defend his orders, noting that some people distorted what he said.

“I sent a voice message on September 10 to all governors to instruct them to control security and public order as people are praying during Pchum Ben,” he said. “I did not order them to prevent people from praying and offering food.”

“I am in charge of security and public order in the country, I have the right to maintain public order during all events,” Mr Kheng added. “I have the right to order my subordinates to manage activities that attempt to destroy peace and political stability […], which will lead to a government overthrow.”

The National Police on Tuesday laid out heightened security plans for Pchum Ben.

National Police chief General Neth Savoeun led a closed-door meeting with nearly 1,000 police officers following the order from Mr Kheng.

National Police spokesman Lieutenant General Chhay Kim Khoeun told reporters after the meeting that police were told to stay alert following a report that Mr Rainsy’s supporters are seeking to gather at pagodas.

Lt Gen Kim Khoeun said police officers will be deployed to pagodas and crowded areas during and after Pchum Ben to monitor any irregular movements by the group.

Mr Rainsy, who is currently in exile, has been riling up supporters ahead of a planned return on November 9. He said he will return to the Kingdom to restore democracy and human rights.

Former CNRP lawmaker Ou Chanrath yesterday said even though he supports the government’s initiative in providing security, it should not intimidate the public.

“I think this measure is an overcompensation because of what could happen,” Mr Chanrath said. “We have seen these measures used before to intimidate. Those [activists] do not have the armed forces to go against the government.”

Soeng Sen Karuna, a senior investigator with the rights group Adhoc, yesterday said what Mr Kheng said in the recording shows that the government is accusing CNRP activists of trying to use pagodas for their political agenda.

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