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I’ll shake hands with protesters: PM

Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre) attends a forum with other government officials at a hotel on Sunday in Rancho Mirage, California, where he met with Cambodian diaspora. Facebook
Prime Minister Hun Sen (centre) attends a forum with other government officials at a hotel on Sunday in Rancho Mirage, California, where he met with Cambodian diaspora. Facebook

I’ll shake hands with protesters: PM

In an address to ruling party supporters in California yesterday, Prime Minister Hun Sen wasted little time in taking several pot shots at US foreign policy and telling attendees he planned to confront anti-government protesters at the US-ASEAN summit head-on.

Speaking at his hotel in Indian Wells, California, ahead of the two-day summit at the nearby Sunnylands retreat with US President Barack Obama, Hun Sen lectured on a range of issues, including Cambodia’s economic achievements, before telling the crowd how he planned to handle anti-government protesters during his stay.

“If the US bodyguards are leading the convoy through the demonstration, I will ask to stop and shake hands with the leader of the demonstration and talk to them, while the US bodyguards have to ensure my security,” he said.

“I dare to die if they want to kill me, I am not afraid.”

In the two-hour speech, a recording of which was obtained from local media outlet Thmey Thmey, the premier also took umbrage with a group of US senators who last week wrote him voicing concerns about the intimidation of opposition party members as well as issues such as land grabbing and human trafficking.

“You have the right to send a letter to me and I have right not to receive your letters,” he said. “This is Hun Sen. I am not a sycophant of the US; I came here on behalf of Cambodia, as prime minister.”

He went on to criticise US foreign policy for “interfering” in a country’s sovereignty.

The US should not be critical of Cambodia for borrowing from China, its largest lender, he said, before telling the audience that he had requested the Obama administration reconsider Cambodia’s “dirty debt”, making reference to US debt incurred under the Lon Nol regime in the 1970s.

A US-based activist group, the Cambodian-American Alliance, has predicted up to 1,000 supporters would attend its “rally against the tyrant Hun Sen” in Sunnylands, which is scheduled to begin in the early hours of this morning, Phnom Penh time.

Meanwhile, fearing a repeat of anti-opposition protests in October that saw two CNRP members savagely beaten by pro-government supporters in front of the National Assembly, the opposition has sent letters to the Ministry of Interior and City Hall requesting added protection at “party headquarters and including the homes of Sam Rainsy, Kem Sokha, lawmakers, leaders and members”.

Both government offices confirmed yesterday they had informed security forces to beef up protection for opposition officials but declined to go into details, saying that violence was unlikely.

“This is our obligation, to protect the safety of all political parties and not to discriminate. We protect all citizens, and we will strengthen this work further,” said City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, declining to detail the expected increase in police presence.

National Police chief Neth Savoeun declined to comment yesterday, while his spokesman could not be reached.

However, as of 5pm yesterday, the director of the CNRP’s executive committee, Morn Phalla, said he had not received a response to the security request, though he expressed confidence that the government would live up to its constitutional “obligation to protect all people and political parties”.

October’s violent anti-opposition protest was sparked by anti-Hun Sen protests overseas, and was foreshadowed by the premier himself just a day before. A pro-CPP group called the Will of Overseas Youth last week vowed to hold retaliatory demonstrations at CNRP headquarters should the planned US protest occur.

However, the group’s leader, Saing Sung, said yesterday that while they were still ready to hit the streets, things might be changing. “Based on our observation . . . the number of people who register for the [anti-Hun Sen] protest might decrease considerably,” he said, estimating that the US protest might be closer to 100 attendees than the promised 1,000.

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