CNRP Holds First Mass Rally Since Protest Ban

An unannounced march across Phnom Penh on Sunday replaced a public gathering that was planned by the opposition but banned by the government, with CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha leading about 1,000 supporters from a ceremony at Wat Botum Park to their party’s headquarters in Meanchey district.

The event was the first opposition march since the government violently cleared protesters from Freedom Park in January, then summarily banned public gatherings. The march followed a 90-minute memorial service for the 16 people killed in the March 1997 grenade attack on an opposition protest led by Mr. Rainsy.

CNRP leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy lead supporters across the Kbal Thnal overpass Sunday during a march from Wat Botum Park to their party's headquarters in Phnom Penh's Meanchey district. (Siv Channa)
CNRP leaders Kem Sokha and Sam Rainsy lead supporters across the Kbal Thnal overpass Sunday during a march from Wat Botum Park to their party’s headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. (Siv Channa)

Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha arrived at Wat Botum Park, the site of the grenade attack, at about 9:45 a.m. The pair then took part in a short Buddhist ceremony presided over by about 40 monks.

After joining the monks in prayer, Mr. Sokha told the crowd that those killed by the grenade attack continue to serve as models for the opposition.

“They have left us with strong ideals to continue to fight through politics in a nonviolent way to oppose dictators who shot our people,” Mr. Sokha said. “We believe that one day the killers who killed our demonstrators will be put behind bars.”

Mr. Rainsy said the continued freedom of the perpetrators of the grenade attack is a sign of the injustice that pervades the Cambodian legal system. He also used the occasion to slam the impunity given today to those who he said “had power with” or “conspired” with the Khmer Rouge.

Mr. Rainsy named Foreign Minister Hor Namhong as among the offenders, who he said were now being protected from giving evidence before the Khmer Rouge tribunal.

“In other countries, when the court summons you and you do not go, you will be imprisoned. But in our country, he did not go because his boss was there protecting him,” Mr. Rainsy said of Mr. Namhong, who has strenuously denied accusations that he conspired with Boeng Trabek prison officials while imprisoned under Pol Pot.

Mr. Rainsy also singled out Deputy Prime Minister Keat Chhon for failing to appear at the tribunal when summoned.

Mr. Namhong and Mr. Chhon, who defected to the Phnom Penh government from the Khmer Rouge resistance in 1984, were among six senior CPP members who flouted summonses to give evidence to investigating judges at the tribunal in 2009.

Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha then began leading those in attendance down Sothearos Boulevard. Mr. Rainsy had announced earlier that the afternoon’s “people’s congress,” which had first been scheduled at Freedom Park and later rescheduled to take place at Wat Botum Park after the ceremony, had been moved to their party office.

Snaking along Norodom Boulevard and later National Road 2, small pockets of the 1,000-strong crowd attempted in vain to reignite the “Hun Sen, stand down” chants that permeated the CNRP’s marches before the violent repression of January.

Arriving at the party’s headquarters in Chak Angre Loeu commune at just after midday, the CNRP’s supporters closed off the northbound lane of the highway. Mr. Rainsy decried the ban on political rallies at Freedom Park that had forced the party to move its gathering to the CNRP’s private offices.

“Today, Freedom Park is called authoritarian park,” said Mr. Rainsy, who has lambasted the “de facto martial law” that has been imposed by the CPP since January.

After prolonged speeches from Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha, a half-hour window was opened in which members of the audience were invited to take part in the planned “people’s congress.” At one point, Australian Greens Party leader Christine Milne, a senator, called in and congratulated the audience on turning out to the first opposition gathering since January.

Mr. Sokha asked those in attendance to raise their hands if they supported various CNRP positions—including the need to reform the National Election Committee and the need to call a new election before the end of the current mandate. He cheerfully declared the crowd’s support for the policies as “100 percent” after each vote.

CNRP lawmaker-elect Ho Vann then emerged and presented a three-page “Resolution of the 2nd People’s Congress.”

Recapitulating the opposition’s main policies since last year’s election, the document urges the CNRP not to take their seats in the National Assembly until an independent investigation into the July 28 election takes place or a fresh election is called.

It also calls for the unconditional release of all “prisoners of conscience,” a $160 basic monthly wage for garment workers, the enforcement of immigration laws, and the creation of a committee to review Cambodia’s international border demarcations.

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