In a hint that this campaign season will be neither smooth nor clean, beleaguered opposition leader Kem Sokha saw two party forums fall apart after hundreds blocked his egress and employed loudspeakers to prevent him from speaking.
At both forums, held in Kandal’s Lvea Em and Kien Svay districts, about 1,000 people descended on the meetings and drowned out the speeches with calls for Sokha to publicly apologise for his alleged comments regarding Tuol Sleng, according to district police and opposition leaders.
At Lvea Em, Cambodia National Rescue Party officials spoke to some 500 supporters for about an hour, before the meeting was interrupted, district police chief Chea Thol said.
“Police forces had been deployed at the forum to ensure social order, and nothing happened until about 1,000 people from the villages along the river came to the forum in a rally, by motorbike and truck. They started speaking through microphones outside the forum site, insisting that Sokha apologise for saying that S-21 was staged,” Thol said.
Insisting it was not a “serious confrontation” and that there had been no violence, Thol said the organisers had been unable to speak over the sound of the rally and were forced to disband the meeting shortly after the protesters arrived.
Tipped off to the presence of the demonstrators, Sokha bypassed the forum, choosing instead to go straight to the Kien Svay meeting, he told the Post.
But once he arrived, he was quickly met by the same protesters, who arrived on trucks that were then parked in front of the driveway to block his way.
“They played loud music next to the forum, and [when I tried to leave], about 10 trucks full of people hired to rally tried to block my car from getting out,” he said.
Eventually, CNRP supporters pushed the trucks away from the driveway and Sokha managed to squeeze through.
“I am okay and got out, but they prevented us from holding our forum. I was only able to speak a few words to our supporters before the forum had to be cancelled due to the disturbance,” he said.
Hem Soy, deputy police chief of Kien Svay district, declined to comment in detail, but confirmed the account given by Sokha.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party had little doubt the protesters had been paid by the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.
“They systematically disturbed the CNRP meetings everywhere Kem Sokha [went],” he said. “We have never experienced this before. Because of the popularity of the CNRP, the CPP is afraid of losing the election.”
Ho Naun and Ouk Damry, both CPP lawmakers for Kandal province, could not be reached for comment, nor could senior CPP lawmaker Cheam Yeap, while National Assembly spokesman Chheang Vun declined to comment.
On Sunday, a mass rally was held in Phnom Penh and smaller ones held across the country calling for Sokha to apologise for his alleged comments, which were disseminated by the government late last month. Sokha and his party have insisted the words were taken out of context and the audio doctored.
At the protests, both the opposition and rights groups sought to draw attention to the high level of government involvement – which included transportation by local authorities, military police assistance and food.
The government, for its part, has insisted it played no official role in the protests.
In a speech given yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen claimed he had learned that a separate CNRP forum was cancelled after organisers began insulting the CPP, raising the ire of attendees.
“When there was a reaction, they ran into the car,” he said.
“I beg, if there is a reaction because they are speaking incorrectly, it must be done without violence. Don’t use stones,” he said, before warning that politicians similarly mind their manners.
“I would like to appeal to the opposition and other parties: promote only your own products. Don’t attack others. Otherwise, it will be a disaster.”
Additional reporting by Abby Seiff