Cambodia concerned by negative image of male officers cracking down on stripping female protesters
PHNOM PENH, Cambodia - A Cambodian secretary of state has advised that more female police officers be deployed at demonstrations to deal with increasingly strident female protesters, local media reported Monday.
While anti-government protests have been persistent since last year's contested election - which saw the country’s strongman prime minister regain power and the opposition allege fraud – the comment was likely in reference to anti-eviction protests.
"They strip off their clothes and now we must have female authorities to run over and hold scarves or sarongs in front of them," Keo Remy, a secretary of state at the Council of Ministers, told The Cambodia Daily.
"The City Hall force has female police... the men cannot hold the sarong or clothes to put on the protesters and cannot touch their skin," he added.
One of the biggest rights issues in the poor Southeast Asian nation is the eviction of poor villagers to make way for government land concessions granted to developers, with residents of the capital’s Borei Keila and Boeung Kak areas protesting for years against eviction from their homes or for decent compensation.
Most of these protests -- which have been held outside local World Bank offices, diplomatic embassies and Prime Minister Hun Sen's own home-- are led and attended by women whose husbands are at work.
The women's protests have become increasingly innovative in recent times, with protesters deploying tactics such as stripping down to their underwear -- a huge taboo in this conservative Buddhist country.
Secretary of State Remy also said it cast a negative image for male officers to crack down on female protesters-- who are mostly housewives and mothers but have become brasher and now push back angrily against police shields.
The demonstrators "have many styles - some people run to hug authorities when they are protesting, using their hands to push and slap authorities, but when authorities push back, there is a photographer to shoot them to show that the authorities are using violence," he added.
Tep Vanny -- the charismatic 32-year-old leader of the Boeung Kak protesters who often faces off dozens of police armed with batons, all while wearing high heels -- has become somewhat of an international celebrity. She even travelled to the United States last year to receive the Vital Voices Global Leadership Award from former U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
"We do not have any other choice," she told the Cambodia Daily. "We can only strip off our clothes to express our suffering at losing our lands."
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