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Cambodia Table of Contents




Devided loyalties: A Phnom Penh policeman minds his child whild guarding a hotel.
Courtesy Bill Herod

People's Security Service

Law enforcement was the responsibility of the minister of interior, who, as a member of the Council of Ministers, was charged by the Constitution "to protect the interests of the people, preserve security and public order and protect the legal rights and interests of the citizens." To carry out these functions, the ministry exercised control over its own corps of plainclothes police and over the People's Security Service. In the late 1980s, nothing was known publicly about the ministry's agents, except that they fulfilled countersubversion responsibilities and that they may have been advised by Vietnamese and by German Democratic Republic (East German) personnel. In 1987 the People's Security Service consisted of a plainclothes branch and a uniformed police force called the Nokorbal (civil police). Total personnel strength was undisclosed. Day-to-day administration of the entire organization was carried out by the deputy minister of interior, under whom People's Security Service staff functions were carried out by fifteen departments or bureaus. Some of these subministerial offices, such as the traffic and the criminal police bureaus, performed routine law-enforcement functions. Others rendered support services, such as internal administration and supply, and still others fulfilled countersubversion responsibilities. Among the latter were the political ideology bureau, which performed loyalty checks on party cadres; the political security bureau, which arrested persons suspected of political offenses; and an internal defense bureau, or unit, which investigated government ministries and offices.

In Phnom Penh itself, police were organized into seven precinct or ward offices, with an additional thirteen precincts in the greater capital area. In the mid-1980s, the chief of the Phnom Penh police served concurrently as the deputy minister of interior. The organizational functions of the capital police staff approximately replicated those of the Ministry of Interior at the national level. Observers identified fourteen different bureaus, dealing with political security, interrogation, political ideology, internal defense, clandestine investigations, case analysis, organization/appointments, supply, forensics/polytechnics, administration, statistical, defense police (embassy and government building security guards), firefighting, and traffic control. A defecting police official estimated that arrests in the capital for both political and criminal offenses averaged about 100 per month in the 1980s.

At the provincial level, police authority was vested in a chief of the People's Security Service who was responsible to the KUFNCD provincial committee and, through channels, to the Ministry of Interior. The police sought to maintain a physical presence at least as far down as the district level and, where possible, as far down as the commune level. Police officials in the countryside were responsible both to their local party and government committees and to law-enforcement authorities at the next higher echelon. In areas without a police presence, law-enforcement responsibilities devolved upon local party or government officials.

Police control of the population outside the cities was assisted by a pass system. Such passes were issued by local committees and were required for travel among villages, districts, and provinces. Frequent checkpoints by police and by military personnel along principal routes ensured compliance by travelers. Violators of the pass system were subjected to brief incarceration upon being apprehended and to heightened surveillance upon returning home. According to defectors, however, checkpoint personnel were susceptible to bribery.

Data as of December 1987