Minister of Interior Sar Kheng yesterday called on authorities in each province and municipality to ease demonstrations in the capital by creating a site for non-violent protests ahead of a planned opposition rally on Saturday.
In a two-page letter sent to provincial officials, Kheng – who is also a deputy prime minister – said the order was aimed at maintaining calm.
“To make it easy to maintain public order and security, a non-violent ‘freedom park’ site should be designated in every province and municipality,” reads the letter, dated Tuesday and distributed yesterday.
The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has vowed mass demonstrations in Phnom Penh on Saturday, barring a thorough inquiry into election irregularities. Though the party has insisted demonstrations would be non-violent, and yesterday said it would be strictly a peaceful mass prayer, municipal authorities have been beefing up security in the lead-up.
Kheng’s letter appears to be aimed at keeping calm further afield.
“Increase security measures to protect public order in each locality and work hard to gather information from all sources related to the activities of incitement for violence or sabotage to prevent and suppress effectively,” it continues.
It also asks that security forces be instructed to “avoid any clashes and advise people to participate according to the law.
Phay Bunchhoeun, Kandal provincial governor, said the provincial government was in discussions following the letter.
“We have held a meeting to find a suitable location for a demonstration for freedom of expression, but we have not yet set the time and location,” he said.
While the 2009 Law on Demonstrations requires each province and municipality to establish a protest area, Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park created in late 2010 is the only such dedicated zone.
The park has increasingly been utilised by the CNRP, and has been set as the site of Saturday’s large-scale demonstration.
Opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann yesterday welcomed Kheng’s letter, calling it a boon for freedom of expression.
“This is a positive step by the government. We welcome it … for people being able to express their rights,” he said.
Separately, Kheng’s letter also urged petrol stations to exercise extreme caution during the protest and make sure that they were adequately equipped with fire extinguishers.