During Prime Minister Hun Sen's official visit to the UN, rallies in support and against him took place over the weekend as planned, with supporters of the Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) attacking each other.
Before his arrival in the US, a government spokesperson expected "thousands" of CPP supporters to gather in a rally to support Hun Sen and his delegation to the UN, at which he gave a speech on Friday. The prime minister was also expected to meet CPP supporters in the coming days.
Former president of CNRP, Sam Rainsy, had previously announced that he would lead the protest in New York, but later cancelled his plans to protest, claiming he had other matters to attend to elsewhere. This left former CNRP deputy president Eng Chhai Eang to lead the rally instead.
The CNRP's supporters continue to call Hun Sen a “dictator” and criticise the CPP-led government for the Supreme Court dissolving the CNRP and imprisoning Kem Sokha.
In a video clip posted on Facebook, a CNRP supporter is seen shouting at Hun Sen to “respect human rights and adhere to the 1991 Paris Peace Accords”.
CPP supporter Chan Sithon stood with other CPP supporters to welcome Hun Sen. He said the government brings peace and development to Cambodia.
“From our perspectives, living in the US, we support Hun Sen and the current government, for they walk a path that brings prosperity, peace, political stability, and development for the future,” Sithon said.
Speaking with Cambodians in New York on Saturday, Prime Minister Hun Sen expressed gratitude to Cambodians who live abroad and continue to support him.
'Raise your banners'
Hun Sen continued to attack former leaders of the CNRP who simultaneously led protests against him. Hun Sen mockingly claimed that they did not even have 50 people to protest against him.
“The protesters said it is going to be a massive rally. I was in shock. Their rally was very unprofessional and all over the place. In the beginning, there were only 30 protesters against me. Then the number reached 50,” he said.
“Don’t worry, I will take selfies in the afternoon. You want to meet me, support the CPP, the government and me personally for working hard for all Cambodians,” he added.
Sam Rainsy posted a video on Facebook, which said: “We gathered in front of the UN headquarters to urge the UN and the international community not to recognise the illegitimate government led by Hun Sen, a dictator and a traitor,” he said.
Sam Rainsy is attending a meeting of global liberal parties in South Africa and apologised to his supporters for being absent from the protest. He said he “supported the protest in spirit”.
“All protesters – please raise your banners, raise your voices together through loudspeakers and gather to show our compassion for Cambodians who reside in Cambodia that doesn’t have free speech and live under pressure and constant threats.
“Ethnic Cambodians who live in the US and Canada will not be afraid of Hun Sen. We demand the release of Kem Sokha immediately without conditions. We demand the CNRP to be back to normal,” he said.
Asked about Hun Sen's strategy to meet his Cambodian supporters abroad, associate professor of diplomacy and world affairs at Occidental College in Los Angeles, Sophal Ear, said Rainsy’s absence at the UN rally might mean that a political deadlock is being addressed behind doors.
“Rainsy was a no-show at the UN Plaza so this means something? Didn't Rainsy just exchange hellos with [Hun Sen] on Facebook Live or something like that? Who knows, maybe they could all be hugging soon in Phnom Penh."
“We all know that at the highest levels, while the public hears acrimony and yelling, privately there can always be different discussions and the familial,” he said.