Undettered land rights protesters yesterday returned to the scene of a brutal crackdown carried out by men in civilian clothing and police on Sunday night in an attempt to draw attention to violence and what they say was a stolen election.
The raid on a peaceful candlelight vigil held by about 20 protesters from the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila communities at Wat Phnom on Sunday left at least 10 people injured, according to activists’ count, with two elderly women remaining in hospital yesterday.
An unknown number of journalists and rights workers sustained injuries from electric prods and large marbles fired from slingshots by men in face masks under the watch of assembled police.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito yesterday blamed the nighttime dark for the callous attack on peaceful demonstrators.
“I don’t know who started it first. But it was nighttime and we could not see clearly who is who. Sorry, but I really don’t know,” he said, before declining to comment further.
A number of police and Interior Ministry officials and spokespeople could not be reached for comment yesterday.
According to prominent Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny, two elderly women, including Vanny’s mother, remain in Calmette Hospital after being struck with slingshot-fired marbles.
Yesterday morning, a small group of women returned to Wat Phnom and successfully forced police officers that had camped out at the site of Sunday’s vigil to leave the area.
A large crowd formed and the protesters’ anger quickly spilled over when a man was singled out as a supposed government infiltrator.
“He took photos of me and I asked him where he was from. He said [he was a reporter] from Voice of America. I asked to see his press card. But he had nothing,” said Khieu Lay, 38, a Borei Keila protester who outed the man to the crowd.
Sor Chenda, who soon admitted to being an undercover police officer, was soon surrounded by an aggressive mob.
He was chased down and forced back to Wat Phnom after briefly managing to escape about 30 metres down the road.
“I have worked at the national counter-terrorism committee [at the National Police] for four years. I did not do anything to affect anyone. I just took some photos of what was going on and made a report to my boss,” Chenda told the crowd.
“Don’t accuse me of being a spy. I have told you who I am; there is no need to question me any more.”
Chenda remained trapped by the crowd for at least half an hour, until representatives from the UN rights office whisked him away into a waiting vehicle
The crowd then set it sights on other would-be “government spies”, turning on at least four others, including a man who claimed to be from a different Boeung Kak group, who were forced to quickly flee the scene.
“Ninety per cent of the media report unprofessionally and tell lies … so when we see anyone strange taking videos or photos, we want to know where they are from,” Vanny said.
Later that afternoon, as riot police gathered at the Council for the Development of Cambodia across the road from the temple, about 40 monks from the Independent Monk Network departed from Wat Phnom on a silent march to Sisowath Quay.
“We sent our petition [to delay the opening of parliament] to the King, but I believe it ended up in the dustbin,” network head Venerable But Buntenh said.
Opposition party spokesman Yim Sovann said yesterday that the CNRP supports peaceful demonstrations by the land rights activists – who have taken centre-stage at a number of recent election protests.
“They understand that free and fair elections can help to solve the problem. If the election is not free and fair, they will continue to suffer. I feel sorry for them,” he said.
Sovann added that the CNRP condemned Sunday’s violence and that the use of “gangsters” to crack down on peaceful protesters was not new.
“This is a bad culture that I have seen for a long time.… I do not accuse anybody, but I think the ruling party knows very well who has done this.”
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY CHHAY CHANNYDA