Riot police were deployed near Phnom Penh’s Wat Chas on Monday to prevent about 30 people from marching to the National Assembly to submit a petition seeking a new national holiday marking the day the French officially handed former Kampuchea Krom provinces to Vietnam.
June 4 marked the 68th anniversary of the day that France officially ceded its Cochinchina colony to Vietnam—an episode that still angers many Cambodians, especially ethnic Khmer Krom, who believed it should be part of Cambodia.
Annual events arranged by the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community to mark the day often face opposition from authorities, and this year’s event was pushed back because it clashed with the commune elections.
Arriving at Wat Chas in Chroy Changvar district at about 8 a.m., the group attempted to march to the National Assembly about 45 minutes later, but were blocked by roughly 100 police officers brandishing batons and shields. They were flanked by two heavy military-style trucks.
After a brief standoff, the police allowed a handful of the petitioners to travel by car to the National Assembly, while armed police blocked the road for another two hours.
Thach Setha, president of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, said he had already been informed that he would not be able to hold the march, which he had hoped would attract about 200 people.
“We want our Khmer people to remember the historical day,” he said.
CNRP lawmakers Ngim Nheng and Chea Poch received the petition and said they would deliver it to party Vice President Eng Chhay Eang before it is given to National Assembly President Heng Samrin.
Although only a few were allowed to submit the petition, others made their way around the barriers and followed the cars.
Both Mr. Setha and activist monk Loun Sovath said that Meng Kheang, 37, a member of the Khmer Kampuchea Krom Community, was detained by police along the way to the National Assembly.
“Two police were driving a motorbike behind Mr. Meng Kheang and they arrested him while he was copying a document at a photo shop in Phnom Penh,” Mr. Setha said, adding that he was released soon after.
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey said he was unaware of the arrest, but that the march was banned to protect “public order.”
“We deployed some police there and blocked the road because the march would have affected public order and it would also cause traffic jams,” he said.
“Mr. Setha already agreed with our municipal authority that he would use a car instead of marching to submit the petition letter to the National Assembly, but he broke the promise,” he said.
Ek Serivuth, deputy police chief of Chroy Changvar district, denied his officials were involved in any arrest of Mr. Kheang.
Sim Vuthy, deputy Phnom Penh police chief, and district governor Klaing Huot said they knew nothing of the arrest. Mr. Kheang could not be reached for comment.
(Additional reporting by George Wright)
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