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New deadlock but old tactics, analysts say

Ahead of today’s hearing on Cambodia’s record at the UN Human Rights Council in Geneva, opposition figures and analysts said the ruling Cambodian People’s Party has reverted to familiar tactics of post-election suppression.

Analysts yesterday said that the breaking up of Cambodia National Rescue Party-led protests at Freedom Park and a crackdown on garment workers earlier this month echoed the crackdowns following elections in 1998 and 2003.

CNRP spokesman Nhem Ponharith said yesterday he believed that the government’s actions this year hearkened back to these earlier periods of chaos and political instability.

“I think that the recent actions of the CPP have backtracked [the country] to the violent crackdown on the opposition in 1998,” he said.

“We will continue with the public forums. The latest political environment has turned negative and was [a result of] the failure to decide a date for political negotiations. The previous tactic of the CPP was not appropriate for a modern democracy,” he added.

Koul Panha, executive director of election monitor Comfrel, said the CPP was employing “Cold War tactics” to defeat the opposition movement by force.

“In 1998, the crackdown on peaceful demonstrations resulted in pressure on Funcinpec to form a coalition government, but now it is different and the tactic no longer works because the CNRP did not demand a coalition government,” he said. “The CPP … has had to change tactics.”

Chea Vannath, an independent political and social analyst, said yesterday that the shift from last year’s easing of freedoms after the election was a sign that the ruling party still lacked political maturity.

“What I observe is that there is a lack of maturity in terms of how to implement the democratic process,” she said.

“For any problems, the CPP is still quite keen to use force rather than help to convince people, to lobby. It likes using violence to intimidate protesters more. It’s the same thing as in 1998 and 2003, the same pattern in terms of democratic processes.”

Vannath pointed to the subtle change in tactics from 1998 and 2003 and suggested Cambodia was seeing a period of transition. “During 2003 and 1998, the government was very quick to react, while in 2013 the government was more patient,” she said. “It’s just like a period of transition between the military tanks and the security forces in 2014.”

Yesterday, Human Rights Watch called on countries making representations at today’s UN meeting on Cambodia to urge the government to end the cycle of violence and institute lasting reforms.

“Hun Sen’s government violates human rights on a daily basis by violently preventing the opposition, trade unions, activists and others from gathering to demand political change,” Juliette de Rivero, Geneva director at Human Rights Watch, said in the statement. “Countries at the Human Rights Council should condemn this brutal crackdown and insist the Cambodian government engage in serious reforms.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY DANIEL PYE

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