The Cambodia National Rescue Party yesterday held a training session on strategies for peaceful demonstration ahead of September 7, the date for a planned mass protest the ruling party has said is “disguised”, possibly as an attempt to overthrow the government.
The training session, held at the party’s Meanchey headquarters yesterday afternoon, was announced via the CNRP’s website and Facebook page.
Journalists who arrived at the meeting yesterday, however, were barred by the party.
“The press was not invited.… This is an internal training. Please leave,” Tioulong Saumura, opposition lawmaker and wife of party leader Sam Rainsy, said.
Mouen Tola, labour head at the Community Legal Education Center, attended the training as a translator and called it “an orientation in active non-violence”.
“It was just [a discussion] of ideas.… They were talking about [civil disobedience] … like the model from Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela,” he said.
“There were around 100 people … in the room, and they were talking about how to organise non-violence and how to respond to those who would provoke violence.”
Tola added that after the session, a film about the life of Mahatma Gandhi was screened for attendees, including foreign peace experts that had been invited to address CNRP members.
CNRP officials could not be reached for comment, but in their statement said the training was aimed at “prevent[ing] any chaos caused by untoward people”. The party is also planning to hold two practice demonstrations on September 1 and 5, with the time and place to be announced later.
In a separate statement issued yesterday, the Cambodian People’s Party admonished the CNRP for calling a mass demonstration, saying it would disrupt the “peace of the people” and go against the popular will of those who had voted on July 28.
“Such an act is also an intention to negate the election, which was evaluated by national and international public opinions as peaceful, free and transparent,” the statement reads.
It adds that the planned demonstration would be a premature protest of the impending official election result, due to be released the day after, and has been announced “under the so-called disguised pretext … [of] election ‘irregularities’”.
Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said yesterday that an opposition demonstration would be allowed, as long as it followed the law.
“A demonstration [under] the law will be OK, and we will provide security and protection. [But] we won’t allow any demonstration that is not allowed by law,” he said.
“A demonstration to topple the government is impossible and they cannot do that. [That includes] any intention to topple or change, [as evidenced by] the way they speak during their meetings in the provinces.
“We prevent the intention. It is better to prevent than to cure,” Sopheak said.
At a press conference yesterday morning, CNRP leader Sam Rainsy dismissed allegations that the opposition was intending to overthrow the government.
“Whoever said that … is completely wrong. I would like to reject [those allegations] unequivocally,” Rainsy said.
He emphasised that protests were still a last resort for the CNRP and that he would personally be willing to talk to Prime Minister Hun Sen to find a political solution.
“If we can avoid [demonstrating], we would be happy to do so. But we can’t avoid [this] unless negotiations begin with the [CPP] in order to form an independent committee,” he said.
“We knew beforehand that the Constitutional Council would do the same as the National Election Committee and that the National Election Committee would do the same as the Cambodian People’s Party.”
Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong sent a letter to the CNRP yesterday expressing his “regret” that the party did not obey its conditions for the Freedom Park rally it held on August 26, attended by close to 20,000.
The CNRP was meant to limit the size of the rally and not invite supporters from the provinces, municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said.
“The governor asked them not to bring people from other provinces, but they did this systematically. This purely violates the stipulations as in the agreed minutes [of a meeting between the party and authorities on August 23],” he said.
“[Sam Rainsy] was able to gather [a crowd] but was unable to manage [them]. This not only caused concern for the authorities but also for the people.”
Dimanche added that City Hall had yet to receive an official letter from the CNRP announcing its September 7 demonstration.