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Daily battle vowed over park’s use

Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua gestures towards municipal security personnel who surrounded her at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park yesterday.
Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua gestures towards municipal security personnel who surrounded her at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park yesterday. CNRP/BEN WOODS

Daily battle vowed over park’s use

Opposition lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua vowed yesterday to continue with her one-woman crusade to bring the “freedom back to Freedom Park” – and urged others to follow her lead – after she was forcibly removed from the site for the second day running.

About 20 security guards, Sochua said, some of them helmeted and carrying batons, escorted her from the park yesterday, following her eviction along with Cambodia National Rescue Party youth supporters on Tuesday.

“For me, Freedom Park should be a symbol of freedom, liberty, assembly . . . I will [return] tomorrow, and I will be there the day after tomorrow . . . I will go there every day as long as I am in Phnom Penh,” she said yesterday.

Sochua, who had arrived alone, said she lasted “less than five minutes” in the park before she was confronted by the security officers, whom she said had anticipated her arrival.

“I announced it . . . so they knew I was coming,” she said.

About 100 members of the security forces gathered in Freedom Park yesterday morning for training.

Sochua said that each day she goes to the park she will address a different rights issue.

“[Yesterday], I spoke about what Freedom Park means, and [today] I will speak about the rights of a citizen under arrest.”

While she was not physically harmed, “an assault like that [being forcibly removed] is similar to an injury,” she said.

The CNRP member was keen to point out that even though party staff and supporters were at the scene, she has launched this campaign as a “citizen of Cambodia”, not as a member of a political party.

“This is nothing to do with the CNRP; they didn’t know I was doing this until now,” she said. “I told the youth not to come to my rescue, but just to [document] what was happening on their phones.”

And, in stark contrast to the mass marches organised by her party, Sochua is calling on all Cambodians to join her by taking their own solo stand against the Freedom Park “lockdown”.

“I will call on other people to walk through Freedom Park as individuals as I have,” she said.

CNRP leader Sam Rainsy said yesterday that even though this is not an official party campaign, he supports Sochua in her endeavours.

“I accept what she’s doing. I think it is good,” he said. “It’s a public park and she is a woman . . . [The security forces] are cowards.”

Sochua yesterday called on Prime Minister Hun Sen and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng to reveal who is in charge of the “black-helmeted” security forces, who have been heavily involved in crackdowns and arrests in the past six months.

“What is the role of these so-called security forces with the black helmets? They have a free ticket to kick, beat, assault and [to do so] brutally,” she said.

But Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the role of the forces spreads much further than blocking entry into the park.

“The role of those security forces is shovelling the gardens in the park [as well as] serving the safety and public order in the park.”

When asked who was in charge of the unit, Sopheak told the Post they are unofficial forces of Daun Penh District Hall.

“They are not judicial police,” he said.

Sopheak said yesterday that the park wasn’t out of bounds.

“At this time [5:30pm] at Freedom Park, people are playing football . . . [So] why was Mu Sochua banned by the security forces? . . . Maybe [she] mocked them in order to have a problem with them.”

But Sochua says she has not been deterred from her mission.

“I will not resist, but I will stay as long as I can.”

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