A plan to burn an effigy of Prime Minister Hun Sen at a Cambodia National Rescue Party rally in the capital two years ago would have led to the deployment of heavily armed security forces had ex-US ambassador William Todd not intervened to stop the stunt, Interior Minister Sar Kheng said yesterday.
The demonstration in Freedom Park on December 18, 2013, passed peacefully and without an obvious security force presence.
However, speaking at a meeting with private security firms at the Intercontinental Hotel yesterday morning, Kheng said things could have turned out differently.
He said that he was in a meeting with Todd when he learned of the demonstrators’ plans, and suggested that the ambassador instruct CNRP president Sam Rainsy to call a halt to the burning.
“The protesters planned to tie the neck of the effigy to pull it along public roads and then step on it and burn it,” he said. “I met with … [Todd] at about 9 or 10am and told him that this is not tolerable in Khmer culture. If [the CNRP] is allowed to do this, Cambodia will have problems.”
Kheng said that Todd did as he was asked, saying that military police were at the ready if Rainsy decided not to order the protesters to cancel their plans.
“Maybe in other countries [burning an effigy of the premier] could be possible, but such a culture is impossible in Cambodia,” Kheng said.
However, responding to Kheng’s claim, Rainsy said yesterday that he did not “have the slightest idea [or] memory related to such an allegation”.
Less than three weeks after the protest, ruling Cambodian People’s Party loyalists and security forces violently broke up the opposition’s protest camp at Freedom Park, a day after at least five people were killed during a garment worker strike.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said Rainsy was expected to meet with Kheng next week.
However, Sovann declined to confirm that the 14 CNRP activists imprisoned for insurrection and jailed Sam Rainsy Party Senator Hong Sok Hour would be on the agenda, saying only the topic of electoral reform had been locked in.
Sok Hour was jailed last month on treason charges after Hun Sen called for his “urgent” arrest for posting a “fake” section of the Cambodia-Vietnam border map to his Facebook account.
Sovann said the last majority and minority team meeting also involved Keat Chhon, Men Sam An and CNRP deputy president Kem Sokha, but he said it was unknown whether they would also attend.
Also at yesterday’s security meeting, Kheng said that authorities were continuing to search for a suspect who allegedly threatened Sokha’s life.
The initial suspect, Interior Ministry official Pheng Vannak, had been cleared after it was discovered that his Facebook account had been hacked, Chantharith said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHAUN TURTON AND DANIEL PYE