A day of peaceful demonstrations gave way to an evening of unrest last night as a handful of protesters were removed from a small patch of land across from the United States embassy and a grup of uninvolved people threw Molotov cocktails towards riot police at Wat Phnom.
Shortly after a Cambodia National Rescue Party rally marking International Human Rights Day ended at noon, some 300 people gathered in front of the US embassy, waving opposition party flags.
“I asked them what they want, and they said they wanted to demonstrate every day,” said CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua, who asked the crowd to disperse before someone shut off her microphone.
“I said . . . this is not a CNRP demonstration. You are free to do what you want, but it’s not a CNRP demonstration.”
By 7pm, a group of about 15 people remained there, sitting down and lighting candles on carpet laid out on grass, while demanding justice and freedom.
“They want to get freedom, they want to get rights,” said Kam Marin, a 23-year-old at the scene who said he supported their effort. “I hope we and the police can fight together.”
Sbay Veng, who declared himself the leader of the group, called for Prime Minister Hun Sen to resign, adding that the protest was modelled on anti-government rallies in Bangkok.
About 20 Daun Penh district security guards stood in formation directly next to the protesters, with one using a loud speaker on top of his car to cajole the sitting demonstrators into dispersing. If they left now, there would be no violence, the guard said. They could come back the next day.
As Ouk Pichsamnang, a barber and former soldier, stood up among his sitting counterparts, telling police they would stay regardless of the consequences, more than 200 armed riot police gathered at Wat Phnom.
The busy roundabout circling Wat Phnom became the riot police’s focal point when individuals began taunting police before throwing rocks and lit Molotov cocktails toward them. Turning to the flaming projectiles, several groups of police marched in formation but were unable to find any culprits among the hordes of bystanders.
During the minor melee, at about 8:30pm, authorities moved in and removed the final 11 people camped in front of the US embassy. Two of them resisted and were carried away.
Negotiations had mostly been peaceful, though authorities had made it clear that the protesters were not welcome to stay.
Daun Penh district security guards took the 11 to nearby Moha Leap guesthouse to stay the night, said Moeun Tola of the Community Legal Education Center, who spoke with Veng, one of those removed from the scene. The group later opted to spend the night at Wat Keang Klang, Tola said.
With the demonstrators removed and agitators dispersed, riot police left Wat Phnom at about 9pm.
Earlier in the day, Sochua chalked the embassy demonstrators’ actions up to resentment of human rights limitations in Cambodia.
“I think people are frustrated,” Sochua said. “People have freedom of expression.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KOAM CHANRASMEY