The Cambodia National Rescue Party has said it plans to expand the mass demonstration already slated for Tuesday in Siem Reap to include another large rally in the capital.
The CNRP announced late last month it was moving its first in a series of new rallies to Siem Reap to allow civil society easier access to City Hall permits for their own demonstrations in the capital on International Human Rights Day.
In an apparent about-face, the CNRP sent a letter on Tuesday to Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong including details of the Phnom Penh march to the National Assembly building, which showed that three groups of demonstrators, led by CNRP president Sam Rainsy and deputy president Kem Sokha, will head towards parliament.
Protesters will march from the CNRP headquarters in Meanchey district’s Chak Angre Leu commune, the former headquarters of the Human Rights Party in Tuol Kork district’s Toek La’ak I commune and from Russey Keo district along National Road 5. City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that he had received the letter from the CNRP, but that a decision to allow the march to take place would not be made until representatives of Phnom Penh municipality had met with opposition leaders.
CNRP lawmaker and rally organiser Yim Sovann confirmed the change of plans yesterday, adding that the group marching from Russey Keo district would make a stop outside the headquarters of Sokimex Group, which Rainsy accused of being Vietnamese interlopers during a July stump speech in Siem Reap.
“We will split into three groups.… Also, the people from National Roads 5 and 6 will gather in front of the Sokimex company building,” he said, adding that the party expects at least 15,000 supporters to turn out.
As of yesterday, civil society groups intending to hold rallies on Tuesday had not been granted permission to gather in Freedom Park, Suon Bunsak, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (CHRAC), said.
CHRAC was due to meet with municipal authorities this afternoon to discuss its members’ plans, he added.
Despite the shift in focus back to the capital, the CNRP still intends to hold a mass demonstration in Siem Reap in the Angkor-Gyeongju area, opposition lawmakers said.
Siem Reap provincial authorities yesterday moved to stop plans for the marches to pass through the Angkor Wat temple area, issuing a ban due to fears such a rally could hurt tourism.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said the ban was imposed because a march through the World Heritage Site would be unconstitutional.
“Angkor Wat is a place of worship. The constitution does not allow anyone to do politics there,” he said.
In a pre-election visit to Siem Reap on July 24, Rainsy played into local supporters’ apparent anti-Vietnamese sentiment, saying he would take back the Angkor Wat complex from the Vietnamese if elected – most likely a reference to Vietnamese-Cambodian businessman Sok Kong, whose Sokimex firm operates the tourism hot spot. Sokimex representatives did not respond to requests for comment by press time.
Seemingly unperturbed by the prospect of the rallies, Prime Minister Hun Sen downplayed the political crisis that has developed since July’s elections in an interview with Kyodo News on Tuesday.
“A solution to our problem here is only a matter of time. It’s an old problem, not a new one,” Hun Sen told the Japanese news agency.