Cambodia Opposition Party’s Campaign Rallies Disrupted

2013-06-11
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cambodia-cnrp-march-may-2013.jpg
Kem Sokha (C) waves during a demonstration along a street in Phnom Penh on May 20, 2013.
AFP

The deputy leader of Cambodia’s main opposition party said he is concerned for his safety after ruling party activists disrupted two of his public rallies and confronted him amid rising tensions ahead of national elections next month.  

Kem Sokha said that at his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) rally outside the capital Phnom Penh on Tuesday afternoon, a crowd of supporters of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) staged a counter-demonstration against him that led to a standoff between the two sides.

The CPP activists interrupted the rally in Kandal province’s Kien Svay district by blasting speakers that drowned out Kem Sokha’s speech, according to CNRP officials and a local commune official.  

When Kem Sokha gave up on the rally and moved to leave, a crowd of CPP activists including 10 trucks surrounded his convoy, blocking him from departing until hundreds of CNRP supporters pushed his way through.  

“There was a confrontation between the supporters, but no one was injured,” Kem Sokha told RFA’s Khmer Service after the incident.

“I am concerned about my personal security because we have asked authorities to intervene but they have ignored us,” he said.

Earlier in the day, Kem Sokha was forced to cancel a planned meeting with a group of villagers in the district after a crowd of CPP activists blocked his car from getting on a ferry to the forum. 

Barred from drumming up support

Kem Sokha accused the ruling party of engineering the disruptions in a bid to weaken the opposition ahead of the July 28 national elections, in which Hun Sen is seeking to extend his nearly three decades in power.

“They want to stop me from talking with voters and gaining their support,” he said.

“The [CPP activists] turned the speakers up so loud that the Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters couldn’t hear me,” he said, adding that he had asked for intervention from the Ministry of the Interior to stop the disturbance but had received no response.

National Police Commission Spokesman Kiet Chantharith said when contacted by RFA that he had not been aware of Tuesday’s confrontation but would investigate the incident.

He declined to comment on police involvement in protecting pre-election rallies from disturbances, saying the Ministry of the Interior was responsible for overseeing the issue.

Ministry of the Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached for comment.

Tep Nytha, chairman of the National Election Committee which oversees the polls, also refused to comment, referring RFA to the Ministry of the Interior.

15 disturbances this month

CNRP Spokesman Yim Sovann told RFA that there have been at least 15 cases of political disturbances of CNRP activities across the country this month, most of them occurring during party rallies.

Party logos at CNRP offices across the country have also been destroyed, according to reports from the offices.

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Demonstrators protest against Kem Sokha in Phnom Penh on June 9, 2013. Photo: RFA.
Tuesday’s rally disruptions in Kandal came after more than 10,000 people took to the streets in Phnom Penh on Sunday in what opposition members said was a rally staged by the CPP against Kem Sokha for alleged controversial remarks on the notorious Khmer Rouge regime of the 1970s.

Cambodian pro-government media have in recent weeks carried remarks attributed to Kem Sokha saying that the Tuol Sleng prison, also known as S-21, in Phnom Penh had not been run by the Khmer Rouge and was instead an invention of the Vietnamese invaders who overthrew the regime.

Kem Sokha and the CNRP have said his remarks were “twisted” out of context.

The government rushed through a law on Friday that makes it a crime to deny Khmer Rouge atrocities, with lawmakers voting on the bill in the absence of CNRP members who were expelled after forming a new party.

CNRP president Sam Rainsy is living in exile to avoid imprisonment on charges critics say are politically motivated. He has been barred from contesting the election, with the government warning that he would be jailed if he returned.

Reported by Samean Yun and Savborey Ouk for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.