Category Archives: Government

As Opposition to the Regime Mounts, Cambodia’s Capital Braces for Bloodshed


TANG CHHIN SOTHY / AFP / Getty ImagesCambodian police officials stand guard as Buddhist monks and supporters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party chant near the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh on Sept. 21, 2013

Cambodia is gearing up for more mass rallies, with up to 50,000 people slated to attend a three-day opposition demonstration beginning Wednesday.

MPs-elect for the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) are boycotting the National Assembly in protest at alleged irregularities they claim cost them victory in recent general elections. CNRP leader Sam Rainsy has demanded international intervention and also threatened a general strike. The turmoil has alreadyclaimed one life, and fears are growing of further bloodshed.

The Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) of strongman Prime Minster Hun Sen, who has held power for 33 years, won 68 out of 123 legislative seats at the ballot box on July 28. However, the opposition claims they were defrauded out of eight seats that would have swung the balance of power. “It is frustrating [not being in parliament], but we are all united behind the boycott,” says Keo Phirum, a CNRP MP-elect for Kratie province.

Not everyone agrees that the CNRP won the most votes. Ou Virak, president of the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, says that opposition politicians “should just admit that they didn’t get enough votes” and instead “emphasize there were significant irregularities.” Allegations of vote buying, intimidation and “ghost voters” swooping in to sway borderline constituencies have also not stopped international governments from tentatively recognizing Hun Sen’s victory.

(MORE: Back From Exile, Cambodia’s Opposition Leader Brings Thousands Onto the Streets)

Nonetheless, discontent over land rights, deforestation, extractive industries and rampant corruption is running high, and a groundswell of opposition is developing as people sense that change may finally be possible. “It is remarkable, the absence of CPP supporters in public, on TV or radio,” says prominent political analyst Lao Mong Hay.

Even when CPP supporters are encountered, they may not be what they appear to be. TIME spoke to a group of Phnom Penh residents who said they festooned their homes with progovernment banners purely for the benefit for visiting officials, and that they really supported the opposition.

Buoyed by this unprecedented public movement, Sam Rainsy has entered negotiations with Hun Sen and reportedly demanded that his party receive the key post of National Assembly president plus six of the 12 committee-chairmen positions in exchange for taking their seats. Hun Sen has laughed off the demands (“Have you ever seen, anywhere in the world, a minority party holding the position of the president of parliament?” he asked reporters) but is clearly perturbed and has erected barricades around his official residence.

In the meantime, a game of brinkmanship continues. “There could be trouble during this week’s protests as our feedback from supporters is that we have been too soft so far,” one CNRP insider tells TIME. “If we compromise now, [our supporters] are never going to vote for us again.”

Some say that the CNRP is being pushed to take on Hun Sen by hard-line members of the Cambodian diaspora, who are among the party’s chief financial backers. The fear is that Hun Sen will respond by ordering a bloody crackdown, exacerbating the crisis further. “The government is so prone to making [those kind of] mistakes,” says Ou Virak, who calls the CNRP position “irresponsible” and urges compromise.

(PHOTOS: Displaced: The Cambodian Diaspora)

In this climate, many see the need for a broker to engineer a settlement acceptable to both sides. However, the most obvious candidate, King Norodom Sihamoni, has distanced himself from the crisis and also refused a CNRP request to delay the National Assembly opening while electoral irregularities were investigated. “Compared with his father, [King Sihamoni] is so weak in so many ways,” said Lao Mong Hay. (Cambodia’s revered King Norodom Sihanouk postponed parliament in 2003 amid a comparable deadlock.)

The CNRP plans to march Wednesday with a petition to the U.N. and at least seven foreign embassies calling for international intervention. However, the city authorities have only granted permission to hold a stationary demonstration of no more than 10,000 people at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park, citing traffic concerns and the inability to guarantee the safety of a larger crowd.

Judging by the 20,000 people who turned up to similar protests last month, there is little chance of these conditions being followed. Troops remain a fixture on the streets of the capital, and with two bitter adversaries unwilling to compromise, a country holds its breath.

MORE: Cambodia Election Campaign Promises Little Change

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Flooding Death Toll Tops 100


Fishermen take advantage of the flooding in Prey Veng province on Wednesday. SRENG MENG SRUN

Flooding death toll tops 100

Thu, 10 October 2013

The death toll from flooding that has affected nearly all of Cambodia has hit 104, the National Committee of Disaster Management said yesterday. With more than 60,000 people having been evacuated, relief agencies are raising concerns over disease outbreak.

The most heavily hit province was Kampong Cham, where 26 people alone have died from flooding, NCDM vice chairman Nhim Vanda said.

“Now, we’ve completely tallied the reports from local authorities and can confirm that 104 people have died,” he said.

A report by the Humanitarian Response Forum released on Monday expressed concern over insufficient sanitation and water in evacuated areas where the risk is high of disease outbreak and contaminated food.

Yesterday, 600 families were evacuated from the Banan district in Battambang before water released from the Kampong Pouy basin caused a flash flood, Buth Sambo, a police chief of Banan district, said. He denied rumors that the Kampong Pouy basin was broken or collapsing.

In Banteay Meanchey, 19 military doctors have been sent by the Defence Ministry to treat more than 500 families evacuated in Poipet town, Deputy District Governor Men Sophan said.

Though water has inundated the halls and reaches up to a metre high outside the Banteay Meanchey Provincial Prison complex, prison authorities have taken no steps to evacuate inmates.

The prison is known to flood every year, but rights organisations are calling this flooding the worst seen since the detention centre opened in 2009.

“We have not taken any moves to evacuate the prisoners, because we can control the situation,” Banteay Meanchey prison director Hin Sophal said. “The water is creeping into the staff rooms, but it cannot go to the prisoners’ rooms.”

According to rights groups, with the building flooded, prisoners are not able to leave their overcrowded cells, leading to numerous sanitation and mental health concerns.

“We are concerned that if the water continues rising, the authorities will have to evacuate the prisoners to somewhere.…They are humans, not rocks …so they can escape when evacuated,” Som Chankear, provincial coordinator for Adhoc, said.

Though the Ministry of Interior has said it plans to prevent the cells from flooding through sandbag banks and continuous water pumping, neither the ministry nor the prison had an idea of where the prisoners could be taken if necessary.

“It is normal, and where the prisoners stay is safe,” Kuy Bun Sorn, director general of the department of prisons in the Ministry of Interior, said.


Flooding in Phnom Penh Nears Emergency Level


By Ben Sokhean and Simon Henderson – September 30, 2013

Almost 8,000 families have now been evacuated to higher ground since severe flooding across the country began two weeks ago and two more children were confirmed to have drowned over the weekend bringing the nationwide death toll to at least 28, officials said.

In Phnom Penh, where floodwaters on Sunday were inching closer to emergency level, 161 families have been evacuated from Meanchey district since Friday with thousands still grappling with inundated homes and poor sanitation.

Kao Sareth, 65, prepares food in his flooded home in Phnom Penh's Meanchey district on Sunday. More than 160 families in Meanchey district have been evacuated from their homes since flooding hit Friday. (Siv Channa)

Kao Sareth, 65, prepares food in his flooded home in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district on Sunday. More than 160 families in Meanchey district have been evacuated from their homes since flooding hit Friday. (Siv Channa)

Keo Vy, deputy director of information at the National Committee for Disaster Management, said that the two young victims died on Saturday in Kompong Cham province, where thousands of families have been evacuated to higher ground.

“Two children died by drowning on Saturday in Kompong Cham. A 6-year-old boy drowned in Batheay district’s Sambour commune, and a 2-year-old girl also died by drowning in Kroch Chhmar district, Trea commune,” he said.

“At least 28 people have died due to flooding in the past two weeks including 16 children, which brings the total killed in floods to 41 so far this year,” Mr. Vy said.

Across the country, a total of 7,897 families have been evacuated, 62,036 houses have been flooded, and 73,616 families nationwide have been affected by the floodwaters, he said.

The Mekong on Sunday rose 14 centimeters at the Tonle Bassac-Chaktomuk water station on Phnom Penh’s riverside to reach 10.2 meters, just below the 10.5-meter emergency level.

Mr. Vy said authorities were concerned that the water levels would rise further in the coming days.

“We are worried about Phnom Penh now because on Saturday the water level reached 10.2 me­ters and may soon reach the emergency level,” he said.

Along the banks of the Tonle Bassac in Chbar Ampov II commune, families waded through muddy meter-high water that has inundated their homes since the river broke its banks last week. Some villagers have erected make­shift wooden walkways and children were using rubber ding­hies made from tire tubing to travel through the increasingly fetid floodwaters.

Though many have already been moved to a nearby safety area, hundreds more continue to cook, eat and sleep in corrugated huts waist-deep in water, leading to dangerous conditions for many young children in the area.

“The water is up to my stomach in my house and nobody has come to help me,” said Chea Narin, a 50-year-old community leader in the commune.

“Some people have no working toilets so they are using the water, and it has brought a really bad smell and my children have had diarrhea. It is hard to keep the children in the house all the time, so they play in the water but we are afraid they will drown like in other provinces,” he said.

Mr. Narin works at a timber yard across what used to be the road in front of his house, but the warehouse floor is under water and the timber is soaked through bringing work to a standstill.

“We need the Red Cross, NGOs or the authorities to help us because we cannot work so have no money to buy food or clean water—all the families here are affected,” he said.

Further upstream in Chraing Bak village, 32-year-old Yoeng Yeung, an ethnic Vietnamese construction worker, said that his house has been completely flooded for about a week and he was worried about his two children.

“Under my house the floodwater is 1.5 meters deep so it is really difficult—inside the house the floor is submerged so I can’t cook or use the toilet,” he said.

He gestured to his two young children who stood behind him on the small makeshift bridge and said that he was frightened that they will drown because they cannot swim.

“Neither the Cambodian Red Cross nor any NGOs have come to help us yet,” he said, adding that despite the floods he must still go to work, while his wife stays home to care for the children.

Yen Vuth, Chbar Ampov II commune chief, said that more than 60 families have been evacuated to a safety area in Doeum Sleng I village over the weekend with more than 1,000 families along the river were currently affected by the floods.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that more than 160 families had already been evacuated to higher ground in the capital’s Meanchey and Rus­sei Keo districts.

“Municipal authorities have received a directive from the government regarding flooding in the city and we are now preparing to provide the affected families in the areas with assistance.”

Stung Treng, Kratie, Kompong Thom, Kompong Cham, Kandal, Banteay Meanchey, Oddar Meanchey and Preah Vihear provinces have experienced the worst of the flooding over the past two weeks, but heavy rainfall from tropical storm Wutip, which made landfall in Laos from the South China Sea on Friday, has extended the reach of the flooding, with Phnom Penh and also Prey Veng province receiving new warnings.

Chann Tha, Prey Veng province’s director of administration, said that emergency level had been declared Sunday when floodwaters reached 7.5 meters.

“Seven districts in Prey Veng province have been affected now by flooding and we evacuated 295 families to higher ground on Saturday and Sunday, while 10,414 houses have been swamped by water,” he said.

Health officials across the country have expressed concern that the flooding could cause a health crisis as a shortage of clean water for drinking and washing is leading to outbreaks of diarrhea.

Cambodian Red Cross spokeswoman Men Neary Sopheak said Sunday that relief efforts nationwide were already underway, though she said she did not know when people living in flooded areas in Phnom Penh would receive assistance.

According to Ms. Sopheak, Queen Mother Norodom Moni­neath on Saturday donated $10,000 to the Red Cross to help with the ongoing relief effort.

Related Stories Two More Die in Flooding, Aid Response Slow in Phnom Penh

Cambodia Returns to a One-Party State


By Colin Meyn

Defying an opposition boycott, Hun Sen appears to be pushing ahead. But options for both sides are limited.


After being sworn into office last week, Hun Sen became the leader of a one-party Cambodian state for the second time in his life. The first time it happened was in 1985, when Hanoi promoted him to prime minister of what was then the socialist People’s Republic of Kampuchea, beginning the rule of one of the world’s longest-serving leaders. It happened again in a carefully orchestrated ceremony in Phnom Penh on September 23, presided over by King Norodom Sihamoni, the nominal head of democratic Cambodia.

It wasn’t supposed to be this way. Less than two months ago, the Western world was applauding Cambodia’s July 28 parliamentary elections as a turning point for democracy in the country. The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) won ashocking 55 out of 123 seats in the National Assembly, despite a litany of failures in the electoral process that skewed the vote heavily in favor of Hun Sen’s Cambodian People’s Party (CPP).

E.U. High Commissioner Katherine Ashton could hardly contain her enthusiasm in a letter to opposition leader Sam Rainsy in the days following the ballot. “The preliminary results of the parliamentary elections in Cam­bodia show remarkable gains by your party and I would like to congratulate you on this achievement,” she wrote.

The opposition had doubled its representation in parliament, the biggest blow to the CPP in 20 years. However, that wasn’t good enough for the CNRP or its nearly 3 million supporters. Emboldened by their success at the polls, Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha, claimed that if not for manipulation of voter lists and outright electoral fraud, they would have won the election outright.  Calls for an investigation into the ballot became the opposition rallying cry.

On September 15, the day before Rainsy and Sokha sat down for top-level talks with Hun Sen to breach the political impasse, the CNRP began three days of mass demonstrations in the capital. More than 20,000 people turned out each day to cheer on CNRP leaders as they took their fight to the negotiating table. Nothing came of the talks.

The CNRP was willing to accept outright control of the National Assembly in exchange for validating a CPP-led government, a condition that Hun Sen told reporters days later was unacceptable as it would have thwarted the government and made it impossible for the CPP to pass a budget without the CNRP’s approval. So the prime minister, who was defeated in 1993 elections by the royalist Funcinpec party but never ceded control of the government, pushed ahead with forming a new government without an opposition party.

With the blessing of the monarch, 68 CPP lawmakers took their oaths on September 23 and unanimously voted in Hun Sen as the head of the new government. After 20 years of democracy, and billions of dollars spent by the U.N. to get Cambodia back on its feet after more than a decade of civil war following the brutal Khmer Rouge regime, Cambodia has returned to being a one-party state.

In many ways, things are now back to normal. In the weeks following the election, Hun Sen was eerily silent. People were left to speculate on what was going on within his party as heavily armed troops and armored personnel carriers inexplicably rolled into Phnom Penh. The day after his new government was made official, the prime minister was acting like himself again. He delivered an epic six-hour speech that was broadcast over the radio and on nine CPP-friendly television stations. Barbed-wire barricades that had blocked many central streets in the capital, which the government said were necessary for security purposes as the new government was sworn in, were taken down. As it has for the past 15 years, the opposition party could only shout about the injustice of it all.

But Hun Sen knows this is not the old opposition. His marathon speech laid out a broad program of reforms, many of which echoed the populist campaign platform that proved so successful for the CNRP during campaign season, including higher wages across the board and more transparency and accountability in government. If Hun Sen doesn’t implement significant reforms over the next five years, he faces two options: be crushed at the polls in 2018 and give up power peacefully or call off democracy altogether and become “the next Burma,” relying on Chinese largesse as he suppresses domestic discontent.

The opposition, meanwhile, thinks it has little to gain by joining a National Assembly controlled by the CPP. It’s most hardline supporters won’t accept anything less than an overthrow of the current regime, while even the most moderate CNRP supporters can agree that giving legitimacy to Hun Sen without being guaranteed a check to his power would be a waste of the party’s newfound popularity.


After almost 20 years fighting against the CPP, Rainsy told The Diplomat that he has learned that serving as a parliamentary opposition to Hun Sen, without mechanisms in place to ensure deep reforms and a balance of power, is pointless. “If we were in a country with an actual democracy, we would consider playing the role of the opposition. But the opposition in Cambodia…is denied any right, any power, any status, so it is totally ineffective. We need other forms of engagement to have checks and balance with the ruling party to ensure change. Cambodia’s political landscape has changed and the balance of power has changed. We have to define a totally new strategy,” he said.

What exactly that strategy will be is difficult to say, even for CNRP leaders. Responding to reporters at a press conference following the CPP’s formation of its new government, Rainsy said that the CNRP would launch a worldwide campaign to make Cambodia a pariah state, and raised the idea of conducting nationwide labor strikes to cripple the economy, which is dominated by CPP officials and their friends. The opposition has also promised more mass protests in Phnom Penh and throughout the provinces. But whether or not the opposition could rally enough support to push the Hun Sen to make the sort of concessions that the CNRP are pushing for is yet to be seen.

Rainsy says the opposition is happy to wait out the CPP as it struggles to achieve legitimacy after staging what he calls a “constitutional coup.” “We have the confidence that legitimacy is on our side. Given the level of popular support that we enjoy, there is a crisis of identity in the ruling party. We are not going to give legitimacy to a party like the CPP who has suffered precisely by losing legitimacy,” he said.

The Cambodian people will ultimately judge the wisdom of the CNRP’s refusal to take their seats during this post-election dispute, but foreign donors seem willing to maintain business as usual in Cambodia, even as the CNRP says the CPP must change its ways. Without sweeping international sanctions or a popular revolt, political analysts said there is no reason to believe that Hun Sen will be pressured to commit to make any immediate concessions to the CNRP that might jeopardize his grip on power in years to come.

Even if major Western donors were to cut aide, the CPP could still fall back on China, which in recent years has ramped up its cooperation with the CPP, committing to bloated investment projects and giving the government millions in no-strings-attached loans.

“Western governments would certainly prefer a negotiated deal [between the CPP and CNRP] rather than a lengthy CNRP boycott that forces them to choose whether to cut aid or not.  If the CPP is seen to be negotiating in good faith and offering meaningful concessions and pledges, there is little likelihood that donors will suspend aid or cooperation,” said John Ciorciari, a Southeast Asia expert at the University of Michigan’s Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy. “If the situation worsens and Western donors do curtail aid, the CPP has other sources of revenue and international support to help it survive for an extended period if it is rebuffed by the West,” he wrote in an email.

Carlyle Thayer, an emeritus professor of Southeast Asian studies at the Australian Defence Forces Academy, said that by staying out of parliament altogether, the CNRP would struggle to claim credit for any reforms that are made in the next five years, adding that an extended campaign of mass demonstrations risked pushing the ruling party to use their sizeable security forces to protect its power.

“The CPP can definitely remain in power over the next five years with or without the CNRP. If the CNRP abnegates its role as an opposition party it will leave the CPP unopposed. This will be a terrible disappointment to the CNRP’s support base,” Thayer wrote in an email. “The real concern should be over whether or not an embattled CPP regime will revert to its default position of authoritarian rule. If the opposition mounts a strong challenge in terms of mass demonstrations…then Hun Sen is liable to use repressive means justified on dubious legal grounds.”

With little hope of isolating the CPP government, the CNRP can either attempt to conduct prolonged and widespread acts of civil disobedience or find a way to explain to its supporters why its formidable contingent of parliamentarians will take their seats in the National Assembly despite having won few up-front concessions from the CPP.

“I’m not sure what the CNRP’s current strategy is, but given that the world is seemingly willing to proceed as though the current unconstitutional government is actually legal, this limits their options,” said Simon Springer, a Cambodia expert and professor of geography and Southeast Asian studies at the University of Victoria in British Columbia. “They can either hope for mass upheaval among the populace that brings the current government down, or they can try to make nice and get down to business within the National Assembly by making life difficult for CPP lawmakers. The former is a hugely risky approach, while the later requires them to swallow their pride.”

Colin Meyn is a reporter at The Cambodia Daily newspaper. 

Photo Credit: REUTERS/Samrang Pring

Protest Turns Into Clash With Police in Cambodia


Nicolas Axelrod/Getty Images

Riot police officers fired tear gas at protesters on Sunday in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. A clash began when security forces tried to disperse one gathering in the eastern part of the city.


Published: September 15, 2013

KUALA LUMPUR, Malaysia — Cambodia’s political deadlock turned violent on Sunday as opposition supporters clashed with security forces in the streets of Phnom Penh, leaving at least one person dead and several injured, according to journalists and a Cambodian human rights organization.

Tang Chhin Sothy/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Cambodian protesters ran away Sunday after riot police fired smoke grenades and water cannons during a clash in Phnom Penh.

The violence came during a day of mass protests in the capital of Phnom Penh led by Sam Rainsy, a former finance minister and the leader of the opposition to Cambodia’s authoritarian prime minister, Hun Sen.

Security forces used tear gas and water cannons against protesters and fired their weapons into the air, according to Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. The circumstances of the death of the opposition supporter were still unclear, Mr. Ou Virak said.

The opposition is protesting alleged cheating in the country’s July elections and has vowed to step up demonstrations across the country unless an independent committee is formed to investigate the reports of widespread irregularities.

An effort to break the deadlock by King Norodom Sihamoni failed Saturday after Mr. Sam Rainsy and Mr. Hun Sen met for less than half an hour on Saturday.

Further meetings — and further protests — are planned for Monday.

The opposition’s first major protest on Sept. 7 proceeded without violence. In a country with a history of political violence, opposition leaders had gone to pains to emphasize the peaceful nature of their campaign.

On Sunday, protesters were angered when security forces tried to disperse them from one spot along a river in eastern Phnom Penh. According to The Associated Press, about 200 demonstrators had gathered there on one side of a barricade of barbed wire and roadblocks that had been erected to keep them away from the Royal Palace. They threw rocks and shoes at security forces, and one policeman was hit with a piece of metal, the news agency said.

Most of Phnom Penh was calm, however, after about 20,000 protesters gathered at the city’s Freedom Park earlier in the day.

The new session of the National Assembly is scheduled to begin Sept. 23, but the opposition has said it will boycott parliamentary proceedings until the issue of vote fraud is resolved. Cambodian and foreign vote-monitoring organizations say the government has not responded to requests about irregularities, including a very high number of temporary identification cards issued around the time of the election.

According to official results that were ratified earlier this month, Mr. Hun Sen’s party, the Cambodian People’s Party, won the election by a relatively slim margin over Mr. Sam Rainsy’s party, the Cambodia National Rescue Party. Mr. Hun Sen’s party received 68 seats in the National Assembly, and Mr. Sam Rainsy’s party 55. By law, Parliament has to convene within 60 days of the July 28 election.

A version of this article appears in print on September 16, 2013, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Protest Turns Into Clash With Police In Cambodia.

Phnom Penh Protests, One Dead

More coverage here:


A protester lies dead on the entrance to the Monivong bridge after demonstrations turned violent in Phnom Penh after dark yesterday. Photo by SEBASTIAN STRANGIO

Protest takes dark turn

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Mon, 16 September 2013

At least one man was shot dead and four seriously injured Sunday night when clashes broke out between protesters and police at a Phnom Penh bridge on the first day of the opposition party’s mass demonstration.

The man, 29-year-old Mao Sok Chan, was shot through the forehead during the clash at the Kbal Thnal overpass.

“He was just working at his job as a newspaper binder and then was going home. And then I heard he was dead,” said his brother Mao Sok Meth. “He’s never been involved in a protest before.”

Four people were rushed to Calmette Hospital from local clinics with severe bullet injuries to their legs, eyes and neck, said Chan Soveth, senior investigator for Adhoc. More than 10 people were arrested, he said, and at least 10 people were injured.

At the hospital early Monday morning, a group of police followed the victims with the aim of further investigation, according to Soveth, who strongly condemned the incident.

“The demonstration organised by the CNRP is a peaceful demonstration – why are authorities using violence like this?”

Police, military police and Ministry of Interior officials could not be reached for comment or declined to discuss whether the incident had led to any fatalities.

At local clinics near the overpass, numerous people were brought in for treatment of injuries caused in the clash.

When riot police retreated and citizens were finally permitted to cross over the bridge after more than two hours, many walked with their hands held above their heads. A number of people broke into tears as they crossed the blood-spattered bridge.

The body of Sok Chan, meanwhile, remained on the scene for hours before police attempted to take it away. As they approached, supporters grew agitated and began clashing with authorities again, said Sok Chan’s brother-in-law, Noy Non Khen.

At about 12:45am, the group eventually allowed the body to be removed, but only by a UN car, Non Khen said.

Soveth said the body was brought to the Khmer-Soviet Friendship hospital.

Bloody blows

According to Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito, the clash began when a group of “opportunistic” protesters began tearing down barriers on the overpass at around 8pm. In response, military police threw a smoke bomb, which further incited tensions.

Protesters began cursing and throwing rocks at the police, who then fired AK-47s into the air at least half a dozen times.

But the incident was marked by immense police brutality. Police could be seen wielding tasers and kicking already-restrained men in the head. As they lay on their stomachs, police smashed them with batons.

Roads around the bridge were quickly sealed off and drivers searched and threatened by police, but the move did little to calm tensions. By the time police pulled out after 11pm, hundreds of them had been deployed to the scene.

“If they are good protesters, they wouldn’t be protesting [at night]. If someone is protesting at this time, they’re not a clean protester, so authorities have the right to crack down,” said Tito, who refused to answer questions regarding the death, injuries or arrests.

He later told the Post that while he could not comment on any reported deaths, the police had “evidence” to support their actions and denied the police had behaved improperly.

“You can have the film,” he said. “If you look, you can see the evidence, but I cannot tell a journalist.”

Brief history of violence

The incident was the second time violence broke out, marring an otherwise peaceful day of mass demonstrations organised by the CNRP.

At Sisowath Quay, police used water cannons and unloaded volleys of smoke canisters on approximately 100 protesters – some of whom had forcibly removed police barricades and dragged razor wire fences into the Tonle Sap river.

The protesters responded to the use of water cannons by hurling rocks, shoes and pieces of metal from the destroyed barricades at police, which led to about a dozen smoke canisters being fired by the authorities.

One young man was caught in the razor wire as police continued to spray water at him and was convulsing as he was rushed from the scene.

A first aid worker who treated the man said later that although water had entered his lungs, he was sent to hospital with no serious injuries.

Military police later confirmed that one police officer was also injured after getting hit in the head by a rock thrown by protesters.

The CNRP distanced itself from the violence, issuing a statement after the Sisowath Quay incident denouncing the aggression and stressing that their protest was both non-violent and confined to Freedom Park.

“A small group of opportunistic people caused panic by throwing the barbed wire barricades into the river, and shouting to provoke the public,” the statement reads.

“And activity by that opportunistic group which caused trouble and unrest outside of Freedom Park is not the responsibility of the CNRP. We would like to appeal to the authorities to enforce strict measures against that group of people.”

Around the capital and further afield, hundreds of police and military police patrolled key locations, blocking off dozens of roads with razor wire and checking identification of those trying to pass through.

Choun Sovann, Phnom Penh Municipal police chief, blamed the CNRP for yesterday’s early outbreak of violence, saying that anyone present would have witnessed how the protesters actions provoked authorities.

“Police put wire barricades here to protect the King…[as] where [people were gathering] is not far from the Royal Palace. City Hall already told the CNRP they were allowed to have a non-violent protest at Freedom Park, so why did this happen in front of Wat Ounalom?” he said.

Officials from the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights arrived on the scene and met with Sovann in a nearby bar to negotiate. Moments later, opposition leader Sam Rainsy also arrived.
“I would like to appeal to this group of youth or any people to immediately stop violence… Stop and go home, it is enough,” Rainsy told the protesters.

A sunnier beginning

The incidences were a far cry from the festival-like atmosphere at Freedom Park yesterday morning. As the leaders entered Freedom Park following marches from the party’s two offices, cheers went up from at least 20,000 supporters gathered to witness the kick-off to the planned three-day-long protest.

Party leaders re-iterated calls for a credible investigation into election irregularities, with deputy president Kem Sokha using foreign embassy statements calling for an investigation as evidence the international community does not recognise the election results.
“The countries that are democratic, the countries that are just all over the world, none of these countries are writing to congratulate [the Cambodian People’s Party],” he said.

Rainsy, meanwhile, heavily criticised the National Election Committee and the Constitutional Council – the two legal bodies tasked with dealing with election complaints – as being under the ruling party’s thumb.
He also pledged that protests would continue until justice was found for voters.

Yesterday evening, following the incident at Sisowath Quay, Rainsy maintained that opposition protests would continue despite the isolated act of violence.

“We are strangers to this incident. We are not involved whatsoever. I went on the spot to condemn those who were involved in any violence, because this is contrary to our position of non-violence,” he told the Post.

“So it doesn’t change anything to our plan to hold a three-day protest.”

Although the Ministry of Interior said the CNRP would only be allowed to demonstrate from 6am – 6pm yesterday, at about 8:30 last night, thousands were settling in to stay the night at Freedom Park.

The opposition previously promised its supporters – many of whom have travelled from far-flung provinces – that the party would organise for them to stay overnight for the duration of protests.

“I am unconcerned [about danger]. I have come to join demonstrations to find justice. I decided to come and stay here for three nights,” Kuch Chantha, 61, from Prey Veng said.


Cambodian Opposition Rallies for U.N. Help on Vote Inquiry



Published: September 7, 2013

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PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — Thousands of supporters ofCambodia’s opposition rallied against the authoritarian government of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Saturday, calling for the United Nations to help lead an investigation into accusations of cheating in the July 28 national elections that the governing party says it won.

Protests by farmers and strikes by garment workers are relatively common in Cambodia, but Saturday’s demonstration by a newly unified political opposition was one of the most potent symbols of defiance against Mr. Hun Sen in recent years.

The leaders of the opposition, Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, told demonstrators that they would stage additional protests until their demands were met.

“We want a leader who is full of dignity, not a leader who steals votes,” Mr. Kem Sokha, the vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told the crowd on Saturday. “We will not stop until there is a solution.”

Analysts question how long opposition supporters will remain passionate about the issue. The three-hour protest, which was peaceful and largely confined to a public square, seemed relatively unthreatening to the 28-year-long rule of Mr. Hun Sen, who in addition to the apparent loyalty of the army and the police has a praetorian guard of thousands of soldiers. His party machinery is firmly entrenched throughout the country, its domination stretching from national institutions to village patronage networks.

But the usually demonstrative and garrulous prime minister has been relatively quiet in recent weeks, leaving analysts guessing about his next moves. The opposition says it will not attend National Assembly sessions until the election irregularities are addressed, but some members of Mr. Hun Sen’s party say they plan to form a new government with or without the opposition’s attendance.

Despite demands by the opposition to withhold official election results until the political standoff is resolved, Mr. Hun Sen’s party, the Cambodian People’s Party, is expected to be declared the victor by the National Election Committee on Sunday. Analysts say the official results are not likely to differ significantly from preliminary tallies by the committee, which showed the Cambodian People’s Party winning 3.2 million votes compared with 2.9 million for the opposition, an uncomfortably slim margin for Mr. Hun Sen, who has dominated the country’s politics for decades.

Cambodian and international election monitors have pointed to numerous, significant irregularities in the elections that have the potential to alter the outcome.

“We can’t say with confidence that these elections reflected the will of the people,” said Laura Thornton, the resident director of the Cambodia office of the National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, an American organization that promotes elections.

Among the biggest issues was the large number of temporary identification cards the government issued before the election. Although temporary cards are normally reserved for those who lose their ID cards, the National Election Committee has said that as many as 800,000 temporary cards were issued, or about 1 per 12 eligible voters.

Ms. Thornton said the government, despite repeated requests, had not explained why so many people needed temporary identification cards to vote. Initial data collected by her organization shows that the use of temporary cards was concentrated in areas where the governing party was in a close contest with the opposition, raising the possibility that the ID cards could have been used illegally as a tool to allow ineligible voters like minors or foreigners to vote.

On Friday, the Constitutional Council, a body that according to Cambodian law has the final say in election complaints, rejected the opposition’s claims of irregularities.

A version of this article appears in print on September 8, 2013, on page A4 of the New York edition with the headline: Cambodian Opposition Rallies for U.N. Help on Vote Inquiry.

In an Unsettled Cambodia, Preparing to Confront the Government


Justin Mott for The International Herald Tribune

Taking to the Streets in Cambodia: Opposition leaders geared up for a protest Saturday against the government of Prime Minister Hun Sen.


Published: September 5, 2013

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — He screamed, “This is so unjust!” But Yann Rith, a 25-year-old resident of Phnom Penh, did not struggle against the group of men who carried him away.

A supporter of Cambodia’s political opposition, Mr. Yann Rith was taking part this week in a practice protest, a role-playing exercise intended to show other supporters how to submit peacefully if arrested by the riot police.

“We will be nonviolent!” Mr. Yann Rith declared, as he patted down his rumpled, button-down shirt.

Cambodia’s opposition is planning to confront the country’s authoritarian government with a demonstration on Saturday to protest what it says was widespread cheating in the July 28 national election that the ruling party says it won. But in a country scarred by years of civil war and genocide, the leaders of the opposition are proceeding cautiously, doing everything they can to convince the public that the protest will be peaceful even as government security forces have begun deploying.

The planned demonstration here in the capital is scheduled to last only three hours and will remain in the public square that Cambodian law designates as a protest area. The opposition carried out two rehearsals this week with thousands of supporters listening to instructions on how to resist any provocations.

“We don’t want a revolution, we don’t want a brawl,” Kem Sokha, the vice president of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, told supporters gathered for a rehearsal on Wednesday. “We just want justice.”

Nearly six weeks after the election, which a number of monitoring groups say was marred by widespread voting irregularities, Cambodian politics remain in a deadlock. The leader of the opposition, Sam Rainsy, early on called for a special committee to investigate the reported irregularities and decide whether new balloting or recounting was necessary. But hopes of a negotiated solution have faded as Mr. Sam Rainsy says his attempts to engage the governing party “led nowhere.” And there seems little doubt who has the upper hand.

Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has been in power 28 years, has a firm grip over the army, the police, the judicial system and nearly every other institution in the country, analysts say. As a symbol of his power, the Khmer-language news media, which toe the government’s line, preface the prime minister’s name with a Cambodian honorific that roughly translates as “His Highness.”

Ou Virak, the president of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, an independent advocacy organization in Phnom Penh, said he supported the right of the opposition to protest but was skeptical it would threaten the governing party’s grip on power.

“How are you going to topple the government with a three-hour demonstration?” he said.

Mr. Sam Rainsy says he is counting on the protests to maintain the momentum and energy of the election campaign. “They will look bad when they come with their guns and water cannons to crack down on us,” he said in an interview, referring to security forces. “We will offer them flowers.”

The election in July was a political milestone for the country because the governing party, the Cambodian People’s Party, lost its near-total monopoly on power, taking 55 percent of the seats in Parliament, down from 73 percent in the previous election, according to unofficial results. Mr. Hun Sen — who with the help of the Vietnamese in 1979 drove out the murderous Khmer Rouge — appeared chastened by the result, and in the days after the election, he spoke in conciliatory terms about his relations with the opposition.

But in recent weeks, he has returned to his characteristic combative style, honed over years in which he has accumulated unrivaled power. Once official election results are announced, which is expected on Sunday, members of his party say, with or without the cooperation of the opposition, they will proceed with the opening of a new session of the National Assembly and form another government, possibly as early as next week.

The government, which is portraying the protest as an attempt to instigate riots, has deployed military units to the outskirts of the capital, and the riot police are conducting their own rehearsals.

“It’s a rebellion,” said Phay Siphan, the secretary of state in the Council of Ministers, which functions as a cabinet. “They plan to use Cambodian bloodshed as their red carpet to power.”

Mr. Phay Siphan, a member of the governing party, said there would be some “policy adjustments” in the new government and shuffling of posts inside the party.

“We are going to get rid of some of our old policy makers,” he said. “The anticorruption unit will be stronger and more active than before.”

Kem Lay, a researcher who has conducted surveys and studied social trends for government ministries as well as for the United States Agency for International Development, said Cambodian intellectuals and human rights advocates were ambivalent about their political choices.

Mr. Hun Sen’s party is resented for allowing land to be seized from farmers, for the opaque way that contracts and concessions are given to groups of businesspeople close to the party and for stifling the independence of the judiciary.

But Mr. Kem Lay said he also saw autocratic tendencies in Mr. Sam Rainsy’s leadership of the opposition — and a generalized lack of competence and experience among the candidates that the party put forward in the July election. “It would have been a big disaster if the opposition had won the election,” Mr. Kem Lay said. “They are not ready.”

Although the result of the election remains disputed, Mr. Kem Lay points to one positive outcome: he noticed that villagers and low-level government officials were speaking their minds, being more analytical and critical of government policies, a development that he describes as the maturing of the Cambodian electorate.

At the rehearsal on Wednesday, a 34-year-old woman named Mai Simorn surged into the crowd with a wad of Cambodian money in her hands. She had collected donations from workers at the garment factory where she works as a seamstress and handed them to the organizers of the protest.

Divorced from her husband, Ms. Mai Simorn earns a base salary of about $80 a month at the factory, barely enough to support her two children. Saturday is a workday, but she plans to ask for half of the day off to attend the protest.

“Our life is not easy,” she said. “We need to dare to protest.”

Military Ready for ‘Disorder’ Olympic Stadium

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Mon, 19 August 2013

About 1,000 military police officers in riot gear were seen participating in drills outside the Olympic Stadium on Saturday morning as part of a training exercise that top officials have said was designed to prepare for mass demonstrations led by the opposition.

Armed with riot helmets, shields and batons, the officers formed neat lines next to rows of assault rifles before filing into the stadium for more than an hour during which intermittent speeches and vociferous group chanting could be heard.

Military equipment, including the weapons, were then packed away into a flat-bed truck as well as a military ambulance emblazoned with the names of its benefactors – Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Cambodian Red Cross president Bun Rany.

The soldiers were then ferried away in a convoy of dozens of military police trucks.

Kheng Tito, spokesman for the National Military Police, confirmed yesterday that more than 1,000 officers had taken part in training exercises teaching them how to protect the country during a demonstration.

The exercise followed a flurry of recent army and military police movements in and around Phnom Penh that have led to rampant speculation the government is preparing to strongly crack down on any protest.

The government has maintained the opposition has the right to demonstrate. But violence will not be tolerated and CNRP leaders will be held to account for any public disorder.

“This is a preventative measure … so the military police can be prepared to crack down quickly if a demonstration turns into rioting, and to protect ordinary public activity,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said.

On Thursday, scores of tanks and armoured personnel carriers arrived in Sihanoukville.

Military police spokesman Tito added that military police units from around the country had been moved to the capital in anticipation of a protest announced by “one political party”.

“If there is really a mass protest as one party has promised, we are afraid that violence will break out, so we want to protect [everyone] and not allow anyone to become a victim.”

Along with military police stationed around Phnom Penh, dozens of officers have been placed at the site of the former Renakse Hotel, a colonial-era building opposite the Royal Palace that has remained fenced off in recent years.

The 7,000-square-metre property, originally owned by the Cambodian People’s Party and seized by the government while on lease to the Renakse’s proprietor, was sold in 2008 to a private developer that was supposed to turn the city icon into government housing.

However, Min Khin, the minister of cults and religions, who allegedly arranged the sale of the hotel, said yesterday that the land remains in CPP hands.

A few of the officers stationed on the hotel grounds told the Post yesterday they had been sent to the capital from Mondulkiri and Kratie provinces.

Dressed in casual clothes, the men said they were “waiting” there to protect public order.

“Normally, our military police stay in their camp, but we have deployed them in some places just to protect public security,” Tito said, adding officers were routinely sent to areas deemed “insecure”.

Mao Rainny, deputy military police commander in Kratie province, said that he did not know how many officers had been withdrawn from his province.