Cambodian opposition leader Sam Rainsy vowed Sunday to continue his party's "nonviolent" campaign to seek justice following disputed elections, saying he would not be cowed by a deadly crackdown launched by Prime Minister Hun Sen's government and threats of court action against him.
Appearing at a Buddhist ceremony in the capital Phnom Penh to pay respects to four people who were shot dead by government forces during a workers' strike last week, Sam Rainsy said the government was trying to push supporters of his Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to resort to violence by waging a violent crackdown on them.
"Dictators are trying to stop us by setting traps for us but we won't fall into these traps," Sam Rainsy said, emerging a day after some party sources said he and his party deputy Kem Sokha had gone into hiding following a series of violent government actions on protests since Thursday.
On Saturday, security forces, accompanied by "thugs dressed in civilian clothes," put an end to daily protests in Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park by hundreds of CNRP protestors — which included women, children, monks, and the elderly — by violently chasing them out of the park and destroying structures and personal property, according to the Cambodian Center for Human Rights.
The Phnom Penh municipal authorities also issued a statement Saturday banning future protests.
Both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha said that they ordered the CNRP's protestors to withdraw from Freedom Park and cancelled a mass demonstration on Sunday "in order to avoid an armed forces crackdown."
"They wanted us to respond to them but I asked monks and other demonstrators to leave. It was a nonviolent act," Sam Rainsy said.
But he vowed to continue the party struggle for justice for the people, including electoral accountability following claims of fraud in July 28, 2013 elections in which Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party has been declared the victor.
The CNRP, which has boycotted parliament, has led daily protests for the last three weeks, drawing tens of thousands of people to the streets calling on Hun Sen, who has been in power for nearly three decades, to quit and hold new elections.
Hun Sen has refused to resign, saying he was elected constitutionally, and has rejected calls for an independent probe into the elections.
Defense in court
Sam Rainsy also said that he and Kem Sokha were prepared to defend themselves in court on allegations they incited violence.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court have issued summonses to them to appear for questioning on Jan. 14 "in the case of incitement to commit criminal offenses or serious social unrest," according to warrants posted on the opposition website late Saturday.
"Our presence here—Sam Rainsy's and Kem Sokha's—shows that we are not afraid because we have done nothing wrong," Sam Rainsy said at the ceremony on Sunday attended by about 1,000 people, including relatives of the four people who were killed and dozens injured when police opened fire at striking garment workers on Friday.
The two leaders said they do not plan to leave the country amid the political tensions.
"I will continue with CNRP's struggle and lead Cambodia to be a democratic country through nonviolent means without any bloodshed," Kem Sokha said. "I appeal to all people to remain calm and avoid any incitement to violence, which is the government's trap."
Government spokesman Keo Remy had said that the authorities cracked down on CNRP supporters at Freedom Park on Saturday in a bid to "stop social disorder and to restore calm in the country."
U.S. congressional statement
In a statement Sunday, the chairman of the U.S. House of Representatives Foreign Affairs Committee called on Hun Sen to quit, citing reports in Cambodia of "elite military units and plainclothes policemen beating and murdering peaceful protesters."
"Hun Sen has brought Cambodia to the brink," Republican Chairman Ed Royce said in the statement.
"No longer content to marginalize the opposition, the Cambodian People's Party (CPP) is now killing peaceful protesters, and has issued warrants for both Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha," he said.
"It's time for Hun Sen to end his three-decade grip on power and step down. The people of Cambodia deserve far better," Royce said.
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said that between Thursday and Saturday, "excessive use of force has been used systematically, human rights defenders and union activists have been threatened, and the freedoms of expression, assembly and movement have been repressed."
“After months of political deadlock since July’s National Assembly elections, the [Royal Government of Cambodia] has sent a clear message today: the time for free speech is over," CCHR President Ou Virak said in a statement late Saturday.
"The events that have taken place over the past several days are a major step backwards for Cambodia in terms of democracy and human rights," he said, citing widespread deployment of security forces throughout Phnom Penh.
The CCHR asked the international community to immediately call on Hun Sen to stop the violence and to peacefully find a solution to the growing civil discontent in collaboration with all stakeholders, including the opposition and civil society.
"It is never too late to engage in peaceful talks which are focused on putting the interests of Cambodia and of the Cambodian people before politics," Ou Virak said.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has also summoned Cambodian Independent Teachers' Association President Rong Chhun to appear before the court on charges that he "incited workers to violently clash with the armed forces."
Rejecting rumors that he had fled the country, Rong Chuan said that he would appear in court on Jan. 14 to answer the charges but said that Cambodian teachers would go on strike as scheduled on Monday.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.