CNRP Defiant Amid Threats

Taing Vida / Khmer Times No Comments Share:
Troops outside the CNRP headquarters in Phnom Penh. Supplied

After heavily-armed soldiers on military vehicles circled the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) headquarters at 9pm last night, the party called on the government to stop its intimidation of people opposed to them and continued to plan a mass demonstration – despite government threats to stop any protest against them with force.
 
Dozens of soldiers were mobilized around the CNRP headquarters in Chak Angre Leu commune on Monday night, terrifying opposition party members and causing panic among activists and supporters.
 
But despite continuing threats by the government, the CNRP did not shy away from its original idea to hold a large protest and moved forward with plans for the demonstration yesterday.
 
In a statement yesterday, they slammed the government for attempting to instill fear in their own citizens for political gain and asked the government to refrain from similar military action against those participating in voter registration drives.
 
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann told Khmer Times yesterday that the opposition remains firm in its desire to hold a peaceful demonstration as a way to resolve the moribund political situation in the country.  
 
“We did nothing wrong. We only want justice,” he said.
 
“We are still planning mass demonstrations, but have not decided on a date for it yet. We will announce it publicly once the party decides. If we take no action, nothing can be achieved,” he said.
 
Party president Sam Rainsy, now in self-imposed exile in France, called on his supporters yesterday to join a potential protest on October 23 – the anniversary of the Paris Peace Accords.
 
“On that day [October 23], we should plan a big event. I think it’s good, because at that time, people will be celebrating the day, not just in Cambodia but also in signatory countries,” he said.
 
After the Phnom Penh Municipal Court sentenced deputy CNRP leader Kem Sokha to five months in prison last Friday for failing to appear as a witness in a lawsuit against him, the CNRP said the ruling party’s unwillingness to return to the bargaining table forced it to look to other methods to get their point across.
 
The opposition often turns to large-scale demonstrations in times of need. Phnom Penh was gridlocked by thousands of protesters in 2013 after that year’s elections, which many claimed were marred by voting irregularities.
 
Both Mr. Sokha and Mr. Rainsy mentioned protests offhand during speeches last weekend after the verdict in Mr. Sokha’s court case and the government was quick to jump on the statements and threaten to use force to stop protests if they felt it was appropriate.
 
In a Facebook post one day after the speeches, Prime Minister Hun Sen said his soldiers would shut down any protests led by the opposition and openly spoke of using violence to stop peaceful protests against the government, despite the constitution enshrining the right to freedom of speech and the right to peaceful demonstration.
 
Ruling party spokesman Sok Eysan said yesterday that the plans for demonstrations were the last gasp of the CNRP and that negotiations between the two parties could continue once the court finished its cases against the party’s leaders and activists.
 
“The CPP has kept the same stance toward talks. The government will take legal action if the demonstration is illegal and causes social instability,” Mr. Eysan said.
 
The National Defense Ministry and the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces also issued a statement against any protests and threatened citizens against participating in any demonstration led by the opposition party.
 
The potential confrontation between protesters and the army represented the worst option for both parties, social researcher and political analyst Meas Ny said. Any conflict between the two sides would cause loses for both.
 
“I believe the CNRP has no choice, so they stood up and shouted for demonstrations through a people movement. The CPP will use force to control the situation. Both parties are causing problems for people,” he said.
 
“Only a resumption of political dialogue will benefit the Cambodian people, and it’s what they really want right now.”

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