In anticipation of the opposition party’s planned “meditative” mass demonstration on Saturday and amid fears of clashes with security forces deployed to control it, a group of leading NGOs and civil society groups yesterday called on the government to respect the right to freedom of peaceful assembly.
Saturday’s gathering – which the Cambodia National Rescue Party estimates will draw a minimum of 20,000 people – will continue to call for an independent probe into election irregularities ahead of the release of final election results on Sunday.
Although preliminary election results show that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party won 68 National Assembly seats to the CNRP’s 55, the opposition continues to claim it won the poll.
The Constitutional Council yesterday rejected the CNRP’s request for a re-vote in 16 Siem Reap polling stations.
After Sunday’s election results are issued, no further legal avenues will be available to the opposition, which has said it will continue to hold demonstrations until its demands are met.
“The Cambodian government, armed forces and police should not discourage or prevent people from enjoying the right to freedom of peaceful assembly, whether through threats, intimidation or the use of unlawful force,” yesterday’s statement, signed by 24 groups including Amnesty International, reads.
A highly visible and growing military presence around the capital over the past weeks led to speculation that the government would crack down strongly on any protest.
Such fears were fuelled by public police training sessions where thousands of riot police, armed with tear gas, shields and truncheons, ran through crowd-control drills.
A government statement earlier this week sought to play down concerns of a violent crackdown, affirming that Cambodians were free to join peaceful protests and warning the armed forces to avoid clashes at all costs.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said that “thousands” of members of the security forces would be mobilised on Saturday.
“If it turns violent and leads to chaos, we will crack down immediately,” he said.
Yesterday, police in Kandal’s Kien Svay district had set up a checkpoint on National Road 1 leading towards Phnom Penh and were stopping cars to search for weapons. A police checkpoint was also spotted on National Road 5 at Prek Pnov Bridge.
According to police, the checkpoints will remain until Saturday.
“We have opened the checkpoint here in order to check for weapons and explosives in order to protect public security … for the [upcoming] CNRP demonstration,” Kien Svay district police chief Ros Sotha said.
A number of passengers arriving in Phnom Penh via bus and taxis from various provinces yesterday told the Post that their vehicles were stopped and searched.
On Wednesday, prominent CNRP lawmaker Mu Sochua said that her party was highly confident that its supporters would remain peaceful on Saturday.
“I totally trust the authorities [too],” she said.
Speaking at a pagoda yesterday in Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey commune, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy claimed that the international community knew his party had won the election.
“Foreign embassies and the international community … they understand clearly that the Cambodia National Rescue Party won. They recognise reality [and] they would give us justice,” he said.
While Rainsy could not be reached for further comment yesterday, party spokesman Yim Sovann played down those comments, saying that although “everyone understands” that the CNRP won a majority, he was not aware of any embassies directly saying so.
“So far, no countries, except a few … issued any statement congratulating the CPP. Secondly, every word [embassies] have said supports the peaceful solution proposed by the CNRP.… This is the basis for the claim [that Rainsy made],” he said.
Senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap strongly rejected any such assertion yesterday.
“This is said by [Rainsy] alone. There are no embassies saying [that the CNRP won],” he said.
Yeap added that if Rainsy continued to make such claims, senior CPP leaders would not be interested in meeting with him to negotiate a solution.
Although Rainsy met with European Union officials yesterday, senior CNRP officials declined to comment on what was discussed, while the EU delegation did not comment in detail.
In a move that could swell the CNRP’s numbers come Saturday, Chea Mony, president of the Free Trade Union of Workers, yesterday joined other union leaders in calling on his 100,000 members to join the demonstration.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA AND AFP