THEIR protest sit-in has been broken up by riot police. Some of their members are
missing. And their leaders say they fear being hunted down and killed. Yet members
of the capital's student activist movement have vowed to fight on.
"We lead demonstrations in order to show all the international community, all
the world, that we don't accept the election results," said Nhay Chamroeun,
24, student representative of the Institute of Foreign Languages.
He leads a wing of the Students for Democracy, a group from many different faculties
in the city. They began holding daily street marches on Sept 2, which continued until
their overnight sit-in in front of the Ministry of Information was broken up Sept
8 by police.
The student marches, which attracted up to 3,000 people, remained distinct from the
'Democracy Square' sit-in in front of the National Assembly, although their message
"What we demonstrate for is only democracy," said one English student during
a Sept 6 march. "The students come here not to support any party, we are independent."
They say their demands are threefold: the removal of prime minister-elect Hun Sen
for reasons including corruption, deforestation, and allowing illegal Vietnamese
immigrants in the country; to reject the election result as tainted by CPP intimidation
and fraud; and to call for new elections, not run by the NEC.
They have marched on various foreign embassies and the European Union office, demanding
that the JIOG election observers revise their assessment of the elections. Five protest
leaders met with EU officials in the early days of the marches to express their dissatisfaction
with the JIOG report.
"The EU had very, very few people in the countryside... and they didn't stay
long, they moved around a lot," said Pen Uylim, 23, student representative of
the Royal University of Phnom Penh. "They didn't see all the bad actions that
The students have also complained about the perceived CPP bias in the media, focusing
several marches on the Information Ministry to protest the lack of coverage of their
grievances on state-run television.
With their mock graduation hats made of white cardboard, their white shirts, and
their various creative props - including a broken TV with Hun Sen caricatures as
well as a detailed marionette of Hun Sen with bloody hands - the young students captured
the public imagination, conjuring up comparisons with powerful student movements
in Indonesia and elsewhere.
But they take issue with the idea that they model their movement on others. "It's
not like Indonesia," one student underlined. "We have made it our own,
our own opinion, our own ideas."
Asked why there are so few women activists, the students differed. "There are
very few girls in the faculty," one said.
"They are afraid because Hun Sen is cruel," said another. "They are
not very strong, like boys."
However, the government's new policy of cracking down on protests has even the male
students spooked. Faculty of Pedagogy students were too intimidated by a heavy riot-police
presence in the city to leave their school compound Sept 10. "If we join with
other faculties who make problems, the authorities here would crack down on us,"
said Doung Virath, 23.
They did hold a small protest, chanting and posting signs demanding removal of their
elected representative. "He made a petition supporting the election results
without asking us at all," Virath explained.
Royal Institute of Technology students are also concerned about the hard new line
the police are taking. "We just get six or seven people together, and the police
come," said Chamroeun.
He and his friends claim some students have disappeared since Tuesday - "for
sure" - but do not know the number.
The student leaders say they are particularly worried about being targeted.
"I am afraid to be killed because I am a representative," admitted Uylim.
He told of being chased by police on Sept 8, and tearing off his shirt in order to
"Since our demonstration failed, we are afraid to be killed one by one, secretly,"
agreed Chamroeun. "I tell you my name in case something happens to me, so the
people will know."
Nonetheless, the students say they will not go back to school at the end of September
unless their demands are met, and plan to continue their activities. They say they
are still distributing leaflets, "especially at night", and hope to plan
Indeed, after receiving a phone call informing him of Thursday's spontaneous march
- which later grew to perhaps 10,000 strong - Chamroeun and his friends were eagerly
preparing to race off and join it. "We have to go on and on," he said.