C CONCERTED campaign against last Sunday's Son Sann congress extended to road blocks
around Phnom Penh, gagging sections of the media and using heavily-armed military
police to clear away hundreds of party followers.
The government - which considered the congress illegal - had repeatedly warned the
public not to attend for fear of violence.
The night before the congress, a grenade was thrown at Son Sann's house and another
at a nearby Wat where supporters of his Buddhist Liberal Democratic Party (BLDP)
faction were staying.
The government condemned the violence and pledged a full investigation to bring the
culprits to justice.
Despite the attacks - believed to have injured at least 35 people, including monks
and nuns - the Oct 1 congress went ahead.
Earlier, some police and military staff attempted to prevent Son Sann supporters
from traveling to Phnom Penh to attend.
The Post witnessed police check points along National Route 2 between Takeo and Phnom
Penh, and on another road to Koh Thom district of Kandal, in the early morning of
People traveling to the capital were seen to be questioned about why they were going
there. Those who showed Cambodian People's Party (CPP) or Funcinpec membership cards
were allowed through. BLDP members were not.
A policeman in Takmao, who would not be named, said the police had been ordered to
enforce a 10pm-5am curfew the night of Sept 30.
No-one was to be allowed to travel to Phnom Penh unless they had permission from
Ministry of Interior or National Police officials.
Between 5am-9am on Oct 1, the police were told to check the identification of all
people going to Phnom Penh. There was no formal order to turn back BLDP members,
but that was what the police did, he said.
BLDP MP and Son Sann supporter Kem Sokha complained that thousands of people had
been discouraged or physically prevented from attending the congress.
He said he knew of at least five truckloads of supporters turned back by police on
Routes 2 and 3.
Sokha also alleged that police general Sanva de Lopez, appointed to his position
by Son Sann's rival BLDP leader Ieng Mouly, had gone to provinces to prevent people
attending the congress.
Lopez could not be contacted for comment, but a BLDP supporter of Mouly's acknowledged
that the general had told provincial police that "if they allowed people to
attend the congress, they would look like they were on Son Sann's side and that it
was their duty as police to appear neutral."
"But just by saying that, he was making them take Mouly's side," the BLDP
official admitted to the Post.
A monk at Phnom Penh's Wat Mohamontrey, targeted in the grenade attack, said a representative
of Ieng Mouly's had visited the Wat two days before the congress was held.
The representative had wanted the monks to read out a statement urging people who
had come there from the provinces not to attend the congress, but withdrew after
his request was refused.
In the days before the congress, government radio and television stations repeatedly
broadcast official statements urging people not to attend.
Journalists from several organizations have told the Post they also received instructions
not to give any other coverage to the congress plans or the event itself.
The government statements reiterated that the congress was illegal, as permission
for it to be held would not be given unless the two BLDP factions reconciled beforehand.
Both Second Prime Minister Hun Sen and Ieng Mouly, the Minister of Information, had
earlier publicly spoken of concern about security problems if the congress went ahead.
Both men - Mouly in an interview published in the Post's last issue, and Hun Sen
in a radio broadcast speech - expressed fear that grenades might be used against
Son Sann supporters.
The congress was changed from its original venue at the Olympic Stadium to Son Sann's
house, despite the grenade attacks the night before.
Between 1,000 to 1,500 people attended the congress, packing the street outside his
United States Ambassador Charles Twining briefly attended - saying that he decided
to do so to "take a stand against violence" - along with 100 monks from
Wat Mohamontrey and another Wat.
Within 15 minutes of Twining's departure from the congress, military police officers
moved in to clear all the people on the road outside the BLDP house.
Heavily-armed, they blew whistles and yelled at the congress attendees, telling them
they either had to be on the premises of the house or leave the area.
As many Son Sann supporters as possible packed themselves on the premises, while
the rest - the majority - were herded up the road. Those were who slow to move were
shoved by military police.
The military police were armed with machine guns - some complete with grenade launchers
- and pistols. At least two were carrying electric "cattle-prodder" batons.
The congress ended sooner than expected, after a hurried vote which re-elected Son
Sann as party president was held of only 360 selected people who were present.
Human rights observers and Son Sann supporters complained that the effective breaking
up of the congress violated the right to freedom of assembly under the constitution.
Government officials, meanwhile, maintained that Son Sann's people had the right
to assemble on his premises but not to block the road outside.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Interior and human rights groups continue to investigate
the grenade attacks of Sept 30.
Some witnesses say the person who threw the grenade at Son Sann's house, a passenger
on a motorcycle, was a woman.
Others suggest it was a long-haired man.
Son Sann's son, Son Soubert, said he had been warned by a Funcinpec MP a week before
the congress that there was talk that "something would happen" if the congress
"I said: 'Maybe it's just a threat'," Soubert said. "I did not believe
that they would resort to this kind of thing."
Meanwhile, reaction to the violence has been swift.
His Majesty King Norodom Sihanouk sent a letter to Son Sann the day after the attack,
calling it contemptable.
The King said he had asked the government to move quickly to find the culprits and
arrest them "so that justice and liberty for the Cambodian people" could
First Prime Minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh "strongly condemned the two subversive
acts", describing them as heinous.
"The Royal Government will not condone such acts nor protect its perpetrators
as the act [are] tantamount to sabotaging peace, security and the process of democratization
of the country," he said.
Ranariddh said Interior Minister You Hockry had already begun investigating. The
Post has been told the man leading the investigation is National Police chief Hok
Ranariddh reserved his harshest criticism for the fact that one of the grenades was
thrown into a "holy place of worship".
The UN Center for Human Rights issued its first ever press release on Oct. 3 condemning
Various international and local human rights groups issued very strong concern at
the attacks; Amnesty International said that the right to assembly in Cambodia was
"increasingly under threat".