Thousands of protesters marched yesterday to greet United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in Cambodia Surya Subedi – an oft-outspoken critic of the Cambodian government – with an eclectic mix of complaints.
Some 3,000 people in total, mostly opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party supporters, turned out for the demonstration timed to coincide with the latest fact-finding mission by Subedi, whose relationship with the government has cooled since Prime Minister Hun Sen snubbed him in December.
The usual suspects were all there: the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila protesters, the assembled CNRP party faithful, and a man who is growing in stature as the opposition caretaker leader with the election race heating up, Kem Sokha.
Sokha dared Hun Sen’s government to debate policy with the CNRP on television and in an extreme analogy, likened the National Election Committee to the murderous Khmer Rouge regime.
“The Khmer Rouge . . . if they kill someone, they said that they did it according to the law, because that person opposed the organisation,” he said, alluding to NEC statements that the law prevents them from making any of the many changes the opposition is demanding.
Chief among them is that a national voter registration list which recent studies have claimed is riddled with more irregularities than any of its predecessors be overhauled and that structural government bias in NEC be legislated out.
The opposition’s other quixotic agenda item was equal access to state media and political radio during the campaign.
Starting with a rally at Freedom Park near Wat Phnom, the march was a feistier event than a previous gathering in April, when CNRP members handed over similar recommendations to a representative of the National Election Committee who came to meet them at the park.
After Sokha’s speech, the roving rally moved south from the park between lines of uniformed riot police and blocked-off streets. Demonstrators were largely untouched, except for a brief pushing match with uniformed officers near the EU delegation on Norodom Boulevard. While there, Sokha delivered a petition listing the CNRP’s grievances to EU Ambassador Jean-Francois Cautain.
From the EU office, they moved en massed down Street 51, hanging a left on 302, which brought them squarely in front of the UN office. Motorbike drivers holding flags of Cambodia led the demonstrators, followed by protestors on foot wearing white headbands.
Joined by other opposition leaders, including lawmaker Mu Sochua, Sokha was let into the office about 20 minutes after Subedi arrived in a car. They handed over the petition to the UN envoy and left not long afterwards.
Boeung Kak lake land activists presented a different agenda, their long battle to secure the release of imprisoned activist Yorm Bopha. At the same time, they had a brief shouting match with tuk-tuk drivers, who regularly demonstrate against Bopha after she was arrested on September 4 last year and charged with intentional violence over the assault of two motodops.
Zoe Latumbo, spokeswoman for the Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights in Cambodia, said Subedi would review petitions from all groups present.
Subedi is scheduled to meet with the National Election Committee this morning, where many of the issues raised at the march will likely come up.
NEC secretary-general Tep Nytha said that any changes that his organisation could make would require a delay in the national elections scheduled for July.