Sit-in, sleep-out, speeches, banners, marches, speeches, democracy, racism,
speeches, thousands on the street and barely a gun in sight...
After scores of speeches filled with anti-Vietnamese rhetoric, protesters at "Democracy Square" vandalized the nearby Cambodian-Vietnamese Friendship Monument. The event stirred long-standing international concern over the opposition's apparently racist attitudes
TThe kickoff to more than a week of speeches, marches and an unprecedented public
demonstration of tens of thousands of opposition supporters was at Olympic Stadium,
Sunday, Aug 22.
A 5,000-strong crowd the size of three football fields waved banners - "Don't
tamper with our ballots", "Recount the votes", "Our votes were
stolen" - and cheered as Sam Rainsy denounced election fraud, Hun Sen, communism,
corruption and yuon (Vietnamese).
The authorities didn't want it but grudgingly allowed it - and for every inch an
emboldened opposition gradually took its proverbial mile; and so it was to continue
throughout the week.
The crowd followed Rainsy in a quick march around the outside of the stadium. Teenagers
screamed: "Wai yuon! Wai yuon!" - Hit the yuon! Hit the yuon!
Suddenly a scuffle broke out as the crowd was directed by police and organizers back
into the stadium. Police rushed into the crowd and pulled out a pale, thin man with
a mustache. A protestor?
"Yuon! Yuon!" a score of youths screamed, breaking through organizers and
police. Two Western cameramen dashed up to film the mustachioed man who smiled in
embarassment. Or fear. A policeman held up white-gloved hands to keep the growing
mob at bay.
"What did that man do?" a reporter asked. "He is yuon!" a teenager
The man was bundled onto the police truck and driven away. An informal march headed
to the National Assembly, moto-dops beep-beep-beeping their horns to the chant: "Fun!
A cameraman who filmed the confrontation said: "I was 20 feet away when the
police rescued that guy. The whole thing is not only morally wrong but politically
stupid. You need leadership to nip racism in the bud. That's how Pauline Hanson got
started. You shouldn't be feeding racism. I want to ask Rainsy, 'If someone got killed
or injured today, would you feel responsible?'"
A few hundred people including Rainsy slept in cots that night in the park in front
of the National Assembly - the same spot where a Rainsy demonstration was attacked
in March last year and at least 16 people were killed.
The next morning Rainsy was again at the stadium. The crowd was two-thirds that of
yesterday's. Hundreds of moto-dops stood on their bikes, throwing their arms up at
Rainsy's punch lines. Speakers reviled Hun Sen as a yuon puppet and a traitor.
"Hun Sen khat cheath!" the crowd chanted. Hun Sen traitor!
"They shouldn't curse like that," objected a Cambodian journalist. "Especially
"No communists! No yuon! Chaiyo Kampuchea! [Long live Cambodia]."
By 5pm at National Assembly park the three hundred who had camped out the night before
had swollen to 1,000. Rainsy appealed to police in case of violence to turn their
guns against Hun Sen and National Police Chief Hok Lundy.
On Tuesday the crowd tripled. Prince Ranariddh joined Rainsy to give a speech from
the back of a pickup.
The Rainsy show goes marching on
Later that night, Interior co-Minister Sar Kheng and his officials met Rainsy and
Funcinpec representative Mu Sochua. At 10:30pm Rainsy and Sochua - dripping from
monsoonal rain pelting down outside - told reporters at a hastily-arranged conference
at the Foreign Correspondents Club that they had been ordered to call off the demonstration
or else they would be dispersed by force.
"The crackdown can come at any time," Rainsy said.
Will you tell your people to go home?
"No," Rainsy replied. "We will not run away. We will not give in to
fear." He added that his demand that Hun Sen step down was supported by "moderate
elements" within the CPP.
Out in the park, in the fierce downpour, a group of young protestors huddled under
a tent. They said that Hun Sen stole the elections, that Sam Rainsy really won, that
the people voted for the CPP purely out of fear.
Rainsy arrived, swathed in a towel, and ducked into a tent. He told his followers
that sit-in demonstrations were forbidden in communist countries but in a democratic
country like England a sit-in could go on for months.
An aide handed him a mobile phone. "Yes... Yes, thank you... Thank you, yes...".
"I'm going to the [Hotel] Cambodiana," he announced, to the office of UN
representative Lakhan Mehrotra for a meeting with Interior official Prum Sokha who
promised that there would be no action against the demonstrators that night. The
people in the tent cheered.
After the meeting Rainsy, looking tired and resigned said he might move the demonstration
from the park to the Olympic Stadium as had been offered, but would have to consult
with Funcinpec first.
Next morning, the demonstrators were still in the park. That evening, Rainsy addressed
a crowd of 6,000, a sea of banners and vendors and motos that filled the lower third
of the park. They roared with laughter and yelled "Chaiyo!"
"I don't like this," said Paiboon, a Thai businessman, from the roof of
the Regent Park Hotel. "This reminds me of Sanam Luang in May 1992. It's really
Paiboon said in Bangkok's Sanam Luang park, protestors led by a democracy activist
were pitted against soldiers of a military dictator. "They say 64 people died.
But who knows? Ying ting [Shoot and throw away]. You burn bodies and where are you
going to find them. In the air?"
The Thai crisis was defused by King Bhumipol whose royal fiat removed both antagonists
from the political field. "I don't see any direction here," Paiboon said,
pointing to the crowd below. "They're all kids down there. They know nothing.
And the difference between Thailand in 1992 and Cambodia now is that our king has
baramee [charisma, spiritual authority]. It's not the same here."
Rainsy made the rounds of camp sleepers at 11pm. "If things are really tense,
I'll sleep here."
For many, ëDemocracy Squareí was as good a place as any to kip the night
He added that he had been assured by Mehrotra that he would not be arrested. He laughed
at a question about a locally-televised interview that day with a man named Khem
Khorn who claimed to have been hired by the SRP to throw a grenade into the camp.
"Those charges are typical," he said. "I'm not worried. Hok Lundy
is looking for a pretext to attack us."
"It could come at any time," he said darkly. "Hun Sen is concerned
with preserving his image. The problem is more with Hok Lundy. He wants to get rid
of us, to find an excuse to clear us off." Lundy, unbeknown to Rainsy, was in
Australia at the time.
Rainsy said he had collected $7,000 cash donations, plus a $1,000-in-kind, and $9,000
the day before. "Now we have enough to sustain us in food... A moto driver may
make enough for two meals a day but he will give us half his money. So we are a self-sustaining
On Thursday afternoon, Fun-cinpec speakers were at a tented podium in the middle
of what was now being dubbed "Democracy Square."
Sections had been organized in the camp for sanitation, food distribution, medical
care, security. In the cool of late afternoon, the crowd gathered for Rainsy's star
turn at 5pm.
Cha Oway, an elderly market vendor, had been here twice already. Her friend from
Kandal was just here to visit her daughter. She had not known about the rally but
said she would return to Kandal to fetch her husband who did not vote for the CPP.
An elderly couple, Vong Chan and Vong Chuchean came with their 10-year-old grandson.
They had been here since day one. A moto driver, Chan, took his bike home each night
and returned to sleep in the camp.
"I came here first because I heard there were a lot of people here," he
said. "I'm here because I hate communism. Pol Pot killed three of my children.
I have only one left. I'm angry at the communists. I'm not bored here. I don't know
when this [demonstration] will stop but I'll stay with the others until we have success.
I'm losing business but I have food to eat."
An 18-year-old drinks vendor said business was good. There were no police to ask
for money. "I'm making 30,000 to 40,000 riel a day. I've been here since the
"Do you sleep at night here?"
"No," she shuddered. "I go home every night. But I'm not afraid. My
father likes Funcinpec and Sam Rainsy, not Hun Sen."
A young moto driver claimed that his business was better here too, clearing 5,000
to 10,000 riel a day. "Many drivers come, more customers than usual. I'm here
for two reasons, to give moral support and to make business."
Two fashionably dressed young women said they worked as an accountant and cashier
for a business they wouldn't name. "We've been coming here since the first day...
We wait for sundown. We don't come when it's hot or our skins will turn brown. I
like Sam Rainsy."
"When do you think this will all end?"
"It depends. Whenever the government puts strong pressure. Then it will end."
Monsoon rains often cleared out all but the faithful
A burly 24-year-old market vendor broke into the conversation: "The demonstrators
are right. Their demands are right. I got here at 10:30am. I'll stay late, then go
home to my wife and kids. People come here by themselves. Nobody asks them to come.
I voted for Sam Rainsy. Everybody I know did. So how come number 35 [CPP] won? And
I have a complaint: how come the VOA [Voice of America radio] reports that the number
of the crowd is so small?"
The crowd now numbered around 8,000, stretching to the middle of the park and the
Vietnamese-Cambodian Friendship monument. Rainsy mounted the roof of a jeep to address
a close-packed audience.
He held up the photo of a man in a police uniform and said that his name was Pou
Makara and that he worked for Mok Chito, formerly of the penal police and now with
the foreigner department. Makara was the man "Khem Khorn" who had alleged
having been hired by the SRP to throw a grenade. He had been interviewed on television
by none other than Mok Chito.
"Mok Chito works for Hok Lundy who works for Hun Sen. Pou Makara kidnapped women
in Kratie. The police are thieves, the thieves are the police. No wonder I can't
join a coalition."
Rainsy went on to complain that the VOA had underestimted the size of his crowd last
night, which he claimed was 35,000.
"The VOA said only 5,000 showed up. Who pays the salary of the announcer, the
US or the CPP?"
Laughing, Rainsy held up a cartoon poster of Hun Sen as a one-eyed dog. "We
want new elections, like in 1993, so there will be no fraud. [NEC chairman] Chheng
Phon is a robber of elections... Hun Sen is paying back to the yuon. I don't want
foreigners living in my country without laws."
Next day, Friday, camp entertainment was in full swing: comedians, poets, blind musicians
swapping improvised lyrics about Hun Sen and Rainsy. Ranariddh did not show up for
his speech in the morning.
Supporters complained that while they were sleeping in the mud and rain, party officials
were going home. "If there's any trouble," said one Funcinpec loyalist,
"we'll be the first casualties."
The toll for pickpockets just among journalists by now stood at three mobile phones,
one wallet and one wad of 3,000 Thai baht.
One journalist said a security officer told him that they had caught a pickpocket.
"Ordinarily we would have beaten him," the security officer said. "But
we knew this would have looked political, so we just let him go. But we know what
he looks like and he won't be allowed back."
Hun Sen appeared on television to say: "There is drought in the countryside
and there's a problem of how to get aid into the country. People of Cambodia should
not have such difficulties because of politicians. The situation has caused the currency
to fall. People should put national interests first ahead of party or individual
Political placards in the camp had grown more sophisticated but remained wild. One
kid paraded by with a poster cartoon of Hun Sen as a puppet manipulated in the background
by a helmeted Vietnamese.
Prince Ranariddh (left) and Sam Rainsy (right) clasp hands over the signboard to the city's newest suburb
The Saturday night crowd was slightly smaller than the night before. This night's
novelty was a candlelight procession around the park led by monks. As it started
Ranariddh was hustled through the crowd by uniformed bodyguards and sped away in
his Mercedes Benz.
The procession was well organized. The contingent led by Rainsy circled the park
while another cut across the field to meet him at the starting point, lining the
road with flaming candles.
On Sunday, a second demonstration at Olympic Stadium drew a crowd of 7,000. People
came from the provinces though many were reportedly stopped by police roadblocks.
The stands looked like a high school graduation ceremony, kids in white mortarboard
hats, replete with yellow ribbons and political slogans. The upper center section
was filled with monks. The protestors were mostly teenagers and overwhelmingly male.
Rainsy appeared but did not speak. The crowd simply moved off north. The big difference
between this march and the first in June was that the marchers were greeted now not
with curiousity or indifference, but with applause and shouts of chaiyo! People smiled
at street corners and balconies and many joined in. The protesters doubled in number
by the time they reached Sihanouk Blvd, taking a full half hour to march past the
corner. The crowd was 15,000-17,000 strong when they reached Democracy Square.
Then things went awry.
While one section of the crowd gathered at the northern end of the park to hear speeches,
6,000 teenagers jammed up against the Vietnamese-Cambodian monument.
They jumped about shouting "Yuon!" and threw water bottles that hit the
concrete statue of a Vietnamese soldier, his Cambodian comrade and the woman and
child they were protecting.
It was 10:25am.
One kid, barefoot, shirtless, in baggy shorts, climbed up to the plinth of the statue
followed by two mates. Others on the ground grabbed a long steel pole and smashed
at the helmet of the Vietnamese soldier. A chunk of concrete fell off to wild applause.
The shirtless kid clambered behind the two soldiers' heads and was passed up a Cambodian
flag, which he waved to rock star acclaim. The other two brought bags of black paint
which they smeared over the two heads. The steel pole whacked off another chunk of
Vietnamese helmet. The crowd roared.
"People want democratic elections," said Say Sokkeang, a young man on a
motorcycle who used to be an administrative secretary to Ranariddh's Cabinet. "Political
pressure is on us."
Two hammers were passed up to the kids on the statue. One worked on the Vietnamese
gun barrel and the kid in baggy shorts bashed away on the Cambodian head till his
friend stopped him and pointed to the Vietnamese. Cheers increased to a full-throated
roar as chunks of concrete helmet flew through the air.
"I don't know if this is good or bad," said Sokkeang. "But it will
make the people of the world know that the Cambodian people don't like the elections
The nose flew off. A kid stomped on the head to wild cheers and laughter. The kids
with the steel pole worked on the Angkor Wat symbol on the side of the monument.
It crashed down to roars of approval. A mob swarmed around the base of the statue,
littered with broken concrete.
"We must interest the European people to see the people do this," Sokkeang
said. "They say elections are not free and fair."
There were now four kids on the head, one with a sledgehammer. He made short work
of what was left of the Vietnamese helmet. Graffiti in spray-painted green appeared
on the base: "Down with Hun Sen One-Eye. Down with Hok Lundy."
The pole was planted on the back of the statue and kids used it to shimmy up the
monument. Two Westerners rushed up with video cameras. An huge cheer erupted as a
kid emptied a bottle of yellow liquid over the both heads. Urine? Suddenly the tops
of the three concrete figures burst into flame. Gasoline.
"Tomorrow this will make the news!" Sokkeang shouted. "VOA!"
No one was in charge. Face contorted in rage, a kid smashed a hatchet at the marble
base, shouting "Yuon! Yuon! Yuon!" A man in a blue UN cap told him to stop,
but shrugged in helplessness and barked into a walkie-talkie.
Another adult appeared with a bullhorn but that didn't work. Suddenly Son Sann Party
MP Kem Sokha appeared with a dozen adults, shouting and gesturing for the kids to
come down. One by one, the kids clambered off the stature and down from the plinth.
It was 10:40am. A very long 15 minutes.
Sokha was carried on shoulders back to the speaker's podium. Rainsy, meanwhile, arrived
to ask the crowd to follow him back to the podium. Some did, some didn't. But the
violence was over.
That night, Rainsy launched a bunch of balloons festooned with SRP and Funcinpec
flags over a crowd that was larger than Satur-day's. People were close-packed around
the speaker's platform with another 2,000 around the monument, seemingly defended
by a row of monks.
"Europeans who come here must think this is the biggest nightclub in the world,"
Rainsy shouted to loud laughter. "But they don't know the trouble we have here."
A monk took the microphone to complain: "Communists want to keep the people
stupid. You couldn't learn languages during the Vietnamese days. But in other countries
people can speak openly. In the countryside, there is no work, nothing to eat. The
people are crying. Ordinary people are suffering but they can't come to join us...
The Vietnamese tell us what to do. They think they are our big brothers."
"They treat us like little kids," agreed Lim Niak, a hotel employee atop
the roof of the Regent Park. "But we're not little kids, we're adults. If you
see TV here, you don't know what is really happening. People come here to hear the
real talk, the straight talk."
On Monday, Hun Sen officially declared peace on the protestors. With Mehrotra at
his side, he promised to provide security and health care for the people of the camp.
"They can stay there three months, six months... They can get married and leave
the camp to have a baby. The sit-in is a surprise at first but later it is normal."
"Europeans who come here must think this is the biggest nightclub in the world," said Sam Rainsy. "But they don't know the trouble we have..."
Mehrotra chimed in to praise the fundamental right of public demonstrations. "The
Secretary General of the UN appeals to the leaders of Cambodia to enter into a dialogue
to form a new government. I hope that they will join hands together under the inspired
leadership of the King."
So ended the week of living dangerously. Monday's demonstration was washed out by
Rainsy said that his accusations of Hun Sen being a puppet of the Vietnamese are
not racist but merely nationalistic: "If Hun Sen was installed in power by the
Chinese, I would say he is a puppet of the Chinese... I blame Hun Sen for not being
independent enough from any external power, [for] not defending Cambodian national
By the Wednesday of the Post's press night, the crowd at Demoracy Square had shrunk
to less than 2,000.