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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Proposed rallies for and against Rainsy highlight Cambodian political divide

Proposed rallies for and against Rainsy highlight Cambodian political divide

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Sam Rainsy

T he Youth Movement of the Funcinpec party declared its support for some 20,000 university deans, professors and students from around the country who they say plan to protest the return of opposition leader Sam Rainsy, according to a statement issued on October 6.

"Obviously, Sam Rainsy supporters inside and outside the country have generated chaos, defamation, subversion, dishonor, and social instability," the statement said. "This has caused foreigners to look down on the once-prosperous Khmer culture."

The faxed press release was unsigned but contained a handwritten note from Thieng Vandarong, deputy general director at the Ministry of Information, inviting local and international media to report on the statement.

The comments came a day after the Sam Rainsy Party (SRP) told local media they had asked the Phnom Penh municipality for permission to hold a 10,000-strong welcome home for their leader.

SRP spokesman Ung Bun-Ang confirmed that Rainsy will return from self-imposed exile, but said a date has not been set.

In a speech delivered in Kampong Speu on September 23, Prime Minister Hun Sen said that he would not intervene to stop teachers from demonstrating against Sam Rainsy, though he requested that all such protests remain non-violent.

Since that time, anti-Rainsy banners have appeared in educational institutions across Phnom Penh, including the National University.

Seng Phally, president of the Cambodian Higher Education Association (CHEA) would not give details about future protests against the opposition.

Phally said only that professors and students across the country are ready to participate in demonstrations upon Rainsy's return to Cambodia.

"We have already been granted permission from the authorities," he said.

The Phnom Penh Municipality and the Ministry of Interior have repeatedly denied past requests from the opposition to hold demonstrations.

On September 27, a small protest against Hun Sen by the Student Movement for Democracy was quickly quashed by police, with one demonstrator punched in the face and five students temporarily detained.

While the anti-SRP protests have been endorsed by the government, they have received muted support from students.

On October 6, a group of students at the National University of Management (NUM) denied knowing anything about the anti-Rainsy banners hung outside their school

"We don't know who did it, and we are not interested in what the banners say," said one student on the condition of anonymity. "I think that the Cambodian people learned a lesson from the demonstrations after the national elections in 1998."

Several of the NUM student said they will not participate in any demonstrations against Rainsy.

At Norton University, students told the Post that they shy away from demonstrations because they know their rights of expression won't be protected under Cambodian law.

Rong Chhun, president of Cambodia Independent Teachers Association (CITA) said that the government's decision to permit teachers to organize political demonstrations stands in violation of the Co-Statute of Civil Servants.

He said that, according to Article 37 of the statute, civil servants must remain neutral in the workplace, and refrain from using their position or state resources or for political activities. These include campaigns on behalf of candidates, as well as opposition activities.

"I think that what those professors and students are doing is just to please the ruling CPP in order to gain personal benefit, rather than the benefit for all," said Chhun. "Why don't they protest against the social issues such as corruption, land-grabbing, increasing civil servants salary, border issues and call for decreasing the price of gasoline?"

"If they are a professional teachers they must not use schools as political tools to please the politicians," he said.

Chhun estimated that 95 percent of the teachers and students across the country would not participate in demonstration, even if they were pressured to. He also said that he would not stage a counter-demonstration due to concerns about political violence.

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