A Molotov cocktail thrown by a demonstrator burns Sept 8 near the Royal Palace as riot police look on.
THE GOVERNMENT crackdown on street demonstrations composed of persistent and highly
mobile protesters has created a week of escalating tensions and turmoil.
Anti-government protesters have played cat-and-mouse with police in key locations
of Phnom Penh over the past six days. The police have used batons, electric prods,
rifle butts, water cannons and some bullets to disperse protesters, but angry people
are consistently regrouping to throw rocks and jeer at the security forces at various
The clashes began on the night of Sept 7 outside the gates of the Hotel Sofitel Cambodiana,
where opposition figure Sam Rainsy is sheltering in a United Nations office.
Police fired shots four times that night, mostly harmlessly, to disperse tenacious
pro-Rainsy protesters outside the gates. But a moto-taxi driver was killed in the
first barrage. One policeman's nose was broken by a hurled rock.
The dead moto-taxi driver's name has been given as Chem Pich by rights workers and
Houn Keo Davy by the Interior Ministry.
Nervous-looking hotel guests peered out their windows or imbibed liquid courage in
the bar as demonstrators yelled, police fired, and journalists took cover behind
the hotel wall.
"Do you think I can leave here?" one guest wondered during a lull. Asked
where he wanted to go, he replied: "Out of here!"
Several protesters, including a monk, were also beaten up by police outside the hotel
before they dispersed around midnight.Tuesday marked the birth of the running street
clashes, after three separate demonstrations were broken up by riot police and water
The opposition's symbolic 'Democracy Square' tent city outside the National Assembly
was invaded by truckloads of shouting police wielding guns and stun batons at 1:30pm.
Most terrified residents fled with whatever they could grab, while fire trucks drove
the stubborn remnants out with water hoses.
Some protesters raced up Sothearos Boulevard to the corner of Street 178, where they
made a brief stand, burning rubbish and hurling rocks and Molotov cocktails at the
perhaps 60 police who followed. The police eventually shot into the air to disperse
the group, and spent the afternoon in a mopping-up operation, checking alleys and
wats around the riverside area for gathering protesters.
The clearing of the unprecedented, 17-day-old sit-in - established to protest the
July 26 election results, home to about 600 residents and host to perhaps 6,000 people
during opposition rallies - took only minutes. Less than two hours after the protesters
had been driven away, a bulldozer arrived to raze the site.
Police had already picked through the park for useful things hastily left behind,
including a portable stereo and a blue baby rattle. Blue plastic tarps were also
carefully folded and loaded onto trucks, along with large valuable items like bicycles.
Individual police rifled through bags in between chopping down the tent frames with
machetes. A few onlookers quietly took some of the banners and cartoons which had
adorned the site.
At the same time Democracy Square was being cleared, police were moving in on two
other pro-democracy demonstrations in different parts of the city.
The Students For Democracy, who had camped out overnight in front of the Information
Ministry on Monivong Boulevard, also dispersed in the face of baton-bearing riot
police and fire trucks.
Meanwhile, marching from Psar Thmei, 300 monks - bearing Buddhist flags and funeral
wreaths for monks who'd gone missing from previous demonstrations - and hundreds
of other marchers confronted two water cannon trucks and 30 intervention police lined
across Monivong Boulevard.
The police charged and the monks fled, except for one brave soul who assumed the
lotus position, bowed his head and offered up a sompeah. This was answered by a blow
to the neck from an electric prod.
Water cannons drove the monks up against shopfront walls. They held up umbrellas
in a pathetic defense against high-powered cascades. Police waded in, bouncing clubs
off shaved heads and robed shoulders.
Other marchers desperately sought shelter with shopkeeper families. One monk, white-faced
in shock and terror, said: "We are just demanding the body of the monk who was
killed and for democracy and peace in Cambodia."
Fifteen minutes later, the police were formed in two lines across Monivong at the
railway station, about to play out a scene which was to foreshadow many clashes in
the days to follow.
Three hundred angry teenagers milled in front of the police, screaming: "Yuon!"
"Yuon puppets! Yuon police!" They advanced closer, throwing rocks and bricks.
The police laughed and joked among themselves. "Please give us the order to
charge," one cop called to his commander.
Behind the police, two army trucks pulled up and disgorged squads of blue-helmeted
The intervention police in the front line squatted down behind their shields as the
rock barrage grew fiercer. Crouched behind them, the commander was barking into a
walkie-talkie. He lifted a bullhorn and shouted: "Charge!"
The police took off like sprinters from starting blocks. The kids turned tail and
bolted up Monivong. At the first block of shops, three police caught a straggler
and belted him around the head with clubs. Another policeman was clubbing a second
kid when his commander conked him on the helmet with his bullhorn, shouting: "Keep
Three blocks up Monivong from the railway station, bricks dropped from a rooftop,
shattering on the pavement below. The commander shouted up to the people lining roofs
and balconies to get out of sight. "Get down here!" he called to two elderly
Chinese men who had poked out their heads out of a fourth floor window.
"No!" they replied and slammed the window shut.
One old lady shouted: "You are cruel. Khmer beating Khmer! Please stop it!"
DEMOLISHING DEMOCRACY SQUARE
An earth mover rumbles through the debris of Democracy Square a few hours after riot police emptied the park. Police picked the area clean of valuables before the demolition began.
Down a sidestreet, two police were beating a moto-taxi driver. A plainclothes cop
rushed up and punched the man in the face, kneed him, elbowed him, punched him again,
only to then grab him by the hair, haul him upright and onto his motorcycle, and
shove him on his way again.
Meanwhile, the demonstration was over, and police squatted with their shields in
the shade. They swigged water, smoked cigarettes and swapped tales of kicks and club-jabs,
voluble as a winning football team.
"We wanted to do this quickly and cleanly," said one later. "We've
been training for weeks. We are professional police. We don't belong to any political
party. We don't care what party people are, we obey orders and perform a good service.
We're not for Hun Sen or anybody. We serve the people of Cambodia."
Told of CNN footage that night featuring police savagely clubbing a middle-aged woman
in Democracy Square, the police murmured in disapproval. "That's not good,"
said one. "But I think we did 90, 95 percent right today. I hope things stay
However, things did not stay quiet after the Tuesday crackdowns. In fact, the demolishing
of Democracy Square seemed to backfire on police: the forcible removal of a clear
focal point of protest created groups of angry, mobile protesters who gathered in
various parts of the city.
On Wednesday morning, a crowd had formed near the US Embassy and Prince Ranariddh's
house, still protesting election results. Police arrived and eventually charged the
jeering, rock-throwing crowd.
In the ensuing melee, protesters - including monks - were beaten with batons and
shot with water cannons. One foreign journalist was hospitalized for a head injury
from a rock but was released the same day.
Two monks were shot. One was originally thought to be dead, which created rage in
the city at such a violation of Buddhist precepts.
Both opposition leaders, Prince Norodom Ranariddh and Sam Rainsy - who emerged briefly,
in a UN convoy, to meet with Ranariddh on Tuesday and again on Wednesday before retreating
to the UN office - condemned the violence against monks in a Wednesday press conferences.
Leaflets claiming the riot police were Vietnamese and wild rumors of widespread killing
by police appeared to energize a movement that at one point appeared to be tapering
The US Embassy continued to be a new focal point for the protesters, as they congregated
again on Thursday morning, only to be again driven off by about 50 riot police, this
time backed up by about 50 military police. One young man was shot and reported dead,
but this later proved erroneous.
Thursday also saw a remarkable swelling of protest, at least partly driven by anger
at the violence against monks. A 500-strong crowd at the Cambodian Office of the
High Commissioner for Human Rights (COHCHR), where protesters met with rights officials
to express concern about their safety, grew into a gigantic citywide march, drawing
Moto drivers, passers-by, and onlookers cheered the march and joined in spontaneously
by the hundreds. The jubilant crowd, seemingly intoxicated by its own power, waved
tree branches and burst into a roar as it passed the police at the former Democracy
"Democracy!" shouted a young woman on a motorbike as she passed the park.
Asked if she was afraid, she said: "Yes, I am afraid of Hun Sen - but I am here,
all of us are here because we love democracy."
As the march reached the Royal Palace, 13 trucks and fire engines arrived bearing
police and military police. The crowd scattered quickly without any shots fired;
the police trucks pursued one section to the train station.
There demonstrators threw rocks at the police trucks, then dispersed again ahead
of about 20 units of Flying Tiger police - only to reassemble later at the Independence
The persistence and speed of the mostly moto-riding demonstrators seemed at times
to reduce the police to racing around the city looking for groups of people to drive
away. And coupled with the police's reluctance to shoot, many of the demonstrators
seemed to take it as a grand game.
Their excitement was palpable as hundreds, perhaps thousands of people gathered around
the monument, laughing, chanting and clapping, even after nightfall.
Many foreign observers were astonished at the evidently unplanned outburst of 'people
power'. "This is incredible", "I never thought I'd see this",
However, police broke up the crowd with shots in the air, and continued cruising
around town into the night, dispersing small groups of hyped-up activists.
The monument played host to a different set of people on Friday morning, as pro-government
demonstrators waved banners in support of the election. The demonstration segued
into a city-wide march, during which pro-CPP marchers - a new sight in the capital
- clashed with opposition supporters.
Shots evidently originating from the pro-government side of the clash killed one
opposition supporter and injured another, UN sources confirmed. The CPP march, unmolested
by police, continued up Street 63, passing opposition demonstrators gathered a block
away at the US Embassy without further incident. Most of the CPP marchers carried
sticks or iron bars.
In a Friday statement, the COHCHR condemned the killing and called on the government
to disarm and disband the pro-CPP demonstrators, who the rights office said "appear
to be agents provocateurs".
The marchers ended up at the Royal Palace. There were no reports of police crackdowns
on the pro-CPP demonstrators.
Also on Friday, 1,500 opposition supporters marched through the city, ending up at
the US Embassy.
King Norodom Sihanouk warned opposition parliamentarians-elect in a strongly worded
statement Friday evening that he could not guarantee their safety if they did not
join the government.
It was unclear whether the King's message would affect protests that were otherwise
expected to continue into the weekend.