Authorities in Cambodia have imposed unusual travel restrictions in a southeastern province ahead of a planned opposition mass protest against election results this weekend, residents and non-governmental groups said Tuesday, criticizing the move as a violation of freedom of movement.
Some of them suspect that the controls in Svay Rieng province, which juts into neighboring Vietnam, were part of government moves to prevent people from the villages to travel to Phnom Penh to participate in the Sept. 7 protest organized by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP).
No similar travel restrictions have been reported in other provinces.
Svay Rieng Police on Tuesday stopped a group of about 100 villagers from leaving the province to attend a religious meeting westward in Sihanoukville province on the Gulf of Thailand.
Tik Vanny, a member of the group, said that local authorities in Svay Rieng's Kampong Tralach commune in Romeas Haek district stopped four buses with the 100 Christian villagers from leaving the province even though they tried to explain to local officials that they were going for a religious gathering.
“ We couldn’t go, police stopped us. They said we didn’t ask them permission,” he said.
This is believed to be the first time local authorities have asked villagers to produce papers permitting them to travel outside their residential areas, he said.
Kampong Tralach commune chief Kong Thoun said he could not allow the villagers to leave because the bus did not have a permit to ferry them.
“I made the order based on the law. There must be permission from authorities first. I am concerned about their security,” he said.
Freedom to travel
Nuth Bopinnaroth, the provincial coordinator for human rights group Licadho, said Cambodians have the freedom to travel within their country and that they need not seek special permission from the authorities to do that. He accused the authorities of breaching the law.
He felt that the authorities are afraid the villagers will join the Sept. 7 mass protest in Phnom Penh.
The protest was scheduled on the eve of an expected Sept. 8 announcement of final election results by the National Election Committee (NEC) that could confirm preliminary findings that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) has won a majority of the seats in the National Assembly, the country's parliament.
CNRP chief Sam Rainsy, who has demanded an independent probe on the election irregularities, has accused the NEC of stealing votes from the opposition and giving them to the CPP after initial results supported the ruling party’s claims that it won 68 parliamentary seats to the opposition’s 55.
The CNRP claims it won at least 63 seats in the National Assembly.
The CNRP has lodged protests over the election irregularities with Cambodia’s highest court, the Constitutional Council, which is conducting a review of the complaints.
The government has deployed additional military forces, tanks, and armored personnel carriers in the capital city ahead of the protest, saying security measures have to be taken to avoid any violence.
About 20 NGOs said they have made preparations to monitor the mass demonstration, adding that they will send legal teams and paramedics to the protest scene.
Neutral and Impartial Committee for Free and Fair Elections in Cambodia (NICFEC) Director Hang Puthea said NGOs are afraid of a possible crackdown on the protests.
“We will have a legal team intervention unit to help demonstrators in case they face any illegal charges over the protest. We also have another unit to provide medical help,” he said.
He appealed to both the demonstrators and the authorities to avoid provoking any violence.
Reported by RFA's Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.