S-21 Survivor Says 2,000-Strong March Gets Approval

Tuol Sleng prison survivor Chum Mey said Thursday that the Phnom Penh Municipality had given him permission to lead a 2,000-strong march to the headquarters of the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) to demonstrate against CNRP acting president Kem Sokha.

Mr. Mey, one of the few people to survive the Khmer Rouge prison where the regime jailed and tortured more than 12,000 men, women and children, is set to lead the march on Sunday after taking offense to comments by Mr. Sokha where he allegedly claimed that Vietnam fabricated the crimes at the detention center.

“City Hall approved our march; the 2,000 people will march,” Mr. Mey said. “We will send him a petition asking him why he did not come to offer an apology,” Mr. Mey said, referring to Mr. Sokha.

“Did he really say those words? Can he bring the original audio to play at Tuol Sleng?” he asked.

Mr. Mey also said that City Hall had even mapped out a route for the march, walking north from Freedom Park to the roundabout by the Japanese Friendship Bridge, then west along Street 70 to Tuol Kok district, and finally south to the CNRP headquarters. He said he was expecting 20,000 people to gather at the park at 7 a.m. before the 2,000 set out on the march at 8 a.m.

Mr. Sokha has denied making the remarks and accused the government of doctoring the voice recordings it released last month that sparked the controversy in order to hurt his party ahead of July’s national election.

Dissatisfied with that denial, Mr. Mey announced that the march would go ahead on Tuesday, after a 10-day window he had given Mr. Sokha in which to apologize closed.

Mr. Hun Sen personally endorsed the march on May 30 and encouraged Cambodians from across the country to join in.

The last time Mr. Hun Sen spurred on a public protest was in 2003 when he relayed a false rumor that a Thai actress claimed that Thailand rightfully owned Angkor Wat. That resulted in mobs rampaging through Phnom Penh and burning down the Thai Embassy, inflicting some $52 million in damages.

Despite Mr. Hun Sen’s endorsement of the protest, Mr. Mey has denied any government role in his plans.

“The demonstration is not involved with the CPP or any party,” he said, adding, however, that politicians and CPP members were welcome to take part in the protest.

“This is for the public,” he said.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche confirmed that Mr. Mey’s demonstration would go ahead, though final approval for the march was still required from the Ministry of Interior.

“We forwarded the request to the Ministry of Interior and we are waiting for the answer,” he said.

Spokesman for the Interior Ministry Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak declined to comment.

CPP lawmaker Chheang Vun, who had a high-profile shouting match with Mr. Sokha at the National Assembly in November after which he was forced into a public apology for his use of a racial slur, said he would join the march—but not as a politician.

“I am a victim [of the Khmer Rouge] who lost 11 relatives,” he said. “I will participate as a normal citizen. I will stand where the organizers tell me. I will follow the law.”

Mr. Vun has also been instrumental in drafting a bill, expected to pass the CPP-dominated National Assembly today, criminalizing denial of Khmer Rouge crimes. Mr. Hun Sen called for the law in light of Mr. Sokha’s alleged comments about Tuol Sleng.

But like Mr. Mey, Mr. Vun also denied any CPP involvement in Sunday’s demonstration.

The planned march will be larger than most marches the government allows.

When the CNRP asked the government for permission to stage a thousands-strong march from Freedom Park to the U.N.’s local human rights office last month, authorities ordered the party to keep the march to 200 people. Police did not intervene, however, when hundreds more joined in.

CNRP members could not be reached Thursday and did not reply to a request for comment.

Earlier in the week, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the CPP was clearly behind the event. He also said the demonstrators were free to march to the CNRP’s headquarters, so long as they did not block the office’s exits and entrances.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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