In anticipation of opposition plans to deliver petitions by car to embassies across the capital, authorities yesterday completely blocked street access to and from CNRP headquarters on National Road 2, causing massive traffic jams along the city’s major thoroughfares in the process.
After vowing on Friday to block any CNRP efforts to march to deliver petitions to embassies of all the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement signatories, police officials installed multiple roadblocks on National Road 2, starting from Monivong Bridge to the opposition headquarters, causing a massive pile-up of traffic on Norodom and Monivong boulevards. However, as of Sunday, the opposition was saying it had no plans to march, and that lawmakers would deliver the petitions by car instead.
Rather than first meeting at party headquarters as planned, two CNRP lawmakers – Mu Sochua and Long Botta – went directly to the embassies to deliver the petitions to avoid the bottlenecks.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada yesterday defended the roadblocks, saying the opposition’s initial request for permission mentioned that 55 lawmakers and supporters would march to the embassies, adding that if they insisted otherwise, “they twist their words”. He went on to dismiss any criticism from the party for yesterday’s actions, maintaining the traffic situation would have been far worse had there been a march.
“The road blockage affected [motorists] a little bit, but we blocked only half of the road, so we clearly thought about the traffic situation,” he said, adding that traffic along National Road 2 was a common occurrence.
However, locals’ reactions yesterday suggested that the traffic was anything but common.
One Chak Angre commune resident, who asked to be identified only as Someata, said that while she typically left for work at 7am, she wasn’t able to leave until 11am yesterday because of the traffic, and criticised the authorities for not informing residents beforehand.
“The authorities, whenever they want to block the roads, they do it without thinking about people living around the area,” she said. “They should give us notice a day or two in advance.”
Irate motorists also took to social media to post pictures and videos of the logjam and air their displeasure at yesterday’s blockade. Facebook user Laneth Lana posted a widely circulated photo of her father in an ambulance, which became mired in the jam, delaying his treatment.
Even a police officer from Stung Meanchey commune, who asked to remain anonymous, said she had to take the day off after finding the traffic near Monivong Bridge “jam packed”, causing her to turn her moto and go back home.
Apart from creating a logjam, the barriers also prevented scores of party supporters from reaching the party’s headquarters, and motorists were instead forced to either turn back or use Hun Sen Boulevard to reach the city’s southern parts.
Back at CNRP headquarters, party chief whip Son Chhay said that despite informing authorities that only a small convoy of cars would deliver petitions to the embassies and that there would be no march, the authorities seemed to have twisted their intent.
“We informed the government so that they would know about our activity, but then they turned it against us,” Chhay said.
The party delivered petitions to 13 embassies, including the US, Germany, Russia, China and the Philippines.
“We call on ASEAN leaders and leaders of signatories to the Paris Peace Agreement to fulfill their responsibility in pushing Prime Minister Hun Sen to put an immediate end to his dictatorial behaviour and grave violations of the Paris Peace Agreement,” the petition reads.
The open letter comes a day ahead of an ASEAN Summit in Vientiane, with Chhay saying he was hopeful that world leaders would pressure Hun Sen on the sidelines of the meet to address the worsening political situation in Cambodia.
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said the opposition’s suggestion that they had violated the 1991 agreement was unthinkable. “If we wanted to violate the Paris Peace Agreement, we would not use the court system to target Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy, we would have to use weapons,” he said.
Additional reporting by Khouth Sophak Chakrya