Cambodian Opposition Cancels Rally to Avoid 'Troublemakers'

CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy (R) and Kem Sokha at a press conference expressing concerns over the security of party supporters in Phnom Penh, Jan 21, 2014.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) canceled a planned rally in a central province on Tuesday, alleging that Prime Minister Hun Sen's party had sent a group of people to cause trouble at the gathering, days after the government violently cracked down on opposition protests and workers' strikes.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy and Deputy President Kem Sokha said they aborted their trip to Kandal province, a Hun Sen stronghold which surrounds the capital Phnom Penh, to avoid falling into the "trap" of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP) which they said was planning to incite violence.

Sam Rainsy said the CPP "transported about 1,000 Hun Sen bodyguards who were disguised [to provoke problems]" at the site teeming with security forces who appeared prepared to suppress any violence.

He said that his party cancelled the gathering to avoid clashes between CNRP supporters and security forces.

“This is a trick that was played to arrest us and jail us," Eng Chhay Eang, the CNRP’s head in Kandal, was quoted saying by The Phnom Penh Post newspaper. "We do not play this game, [so] we decided to postpone.”

Security forces took no action to disperse the large group of potential troublemakers at the rally site despite requests from the opposition, local CNRP officials said.

Opposition to continue with rallies

Kem Sokha however vowed to continue holding CNRP rallies in the coming days.

"We will continue our political activities peacefully. We are trying to avoid violence. We don't use violent means to resolve issues like the ruling party does," he said.

Tuesday's incident came more than two weeks after police shot dead four people during a strike by garment workers in the outskirts of Phnom Penh and violently dispersed CNRP supporters at the capital's Freedom Park after they demanded that Hun Sen step down and hold fresh elections.

The CNRP claimed it was robbed of victory in July 2013 elections which it said was marred by fraud and other irregularities. The government-appointed election body declared Hun Sen's CPP the victor and dismissed calls for an independent investigation by the CNRP which has boycotted parliament.

The deadly crackdown on Jan. 3 has also led to a ban on protests in Phnom Penh.

Petition bid thwarted

Rong Chhun (2nd from L), president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, and Tep Vanny (L), Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community leader, after their release in Phnom Penh, Jan. 21, 2014.
Rong Chhun (2nd from L), president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, and Tep Vanny (L), Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community leader, after their release in Phnom Penh, Jan. 21, 2014.

On Tuesday, Cambodian police briefly detained nearly a dozen activists trying to petition Western embassies for help in gaining the release of 23 protesters arrested during the deadly crackdown on striking garment workers.

The 11 activists were released after they were asked to sign police documents promising not to hold "illegal demonstrations" in the future, said Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions, who was among those briefly held.

The others held were Tep Vany, a representative of Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community residents, who were evicted to make way for a luxury development project, and nine other villagers.

But Rong Chhun said that the campaign to seek the release of the 23 arrested rights activists and workers would proceed.

"We will continue our activities to make sure that this country respects human rights," he said.

"All we want is justice," Tep Vany said.

Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai

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