Parts of Phnom Penh came to a standstill Sunday as security forces closed off major and minor roads with razor wire and metal barriers and at one point even denied an ambulance access to a local children’s hospital.
The measures were put in place for the first day of the opposition CNRP’s planned three-day demonstrations against contested election results. The barricades were deployed across the city, including multiple spots along Sisowath Quay and Norodom Boulevard, the roads around the Royal Palace, every road connected to the Independence Monument area and every road linking Norodom Boulevard to Street 51.
Pol Sam Oun, a police officer stationed at a major roadblock on the corner of Norodom Boulevard and Street 294, said orders had been given to roll out the barricades to facilitate smooth access for demonstrators to Freedom Park, where the CNRP had planned a three-day camp-in.
“We blocked the road to stop the protesters going onto different streets. If we open all of the roads, it would be anarchy—that’s why we do this, it’s to help get them to Freedom Park and so there are no traffic jams,” he said.
But people around Phnom Penh on Sunday said the measures had the opposite effect on traffic, blocking many from reaching their homes, schools and offices.
Sok Any, a 25-year-old English student at Pannasastra University, said she had been trapped in the city center for most of the morning waiting for a way home.
“In the morning it was easy to get there, I left at 6:30 a.m. and got there at 7:30 a.m., but my school was closed,” she said. “Now every road seems to be closed, and I can’t get back home to Tuol Tompong.”
At about 12:30 p.m. in front of Wat Ounalom, demonstrators following opposition president Sam Rainsy and his deputy, Kem Sokha, overwhelmed one of the barricades resulting in riot police retreating to a safer distance near Street 240.
“They walked into the river, came around and lifted it up from behind. We tried to stop them, but we could not and now it’s bro- ken,” said penal police officer Nuon Samuth.
As military police worked on reinforcing the barricade, demonstrators taunted the police.
“You need to bring another car [of military police] to stop us,” one man shouted.
“They cannot bring it here, because it’s burning in Meanchey district,” another protester exclaimed.
Two hours earlier, panicked military police had run up the riverfront tourist strip, exhorting shop owners to pull the shutters down over their shops. “It’s a big problem: No customers, no money,” one store owner on Sisowath Quay said, predicting losses of about $200 during the course of the day.
“They ran up to us telling us they were scared there would be thieves,” he explained.
The Akreiksat ferry port connecting Phnom Penh to Kandal province, which lies near Koh Pich, was also forced closed Sunday, with a security guard at the port saying it had been closed since 6 a.m. and had no immediate plans to reopen.
A group of people waiting at the port said that they were hoping to go home to Svay Chrum in Kandal province, and would now have to go via the Chroy Changva bridge.
But a 35-year-old man, who gave his name only as Saron, quickly dashed those hopes.
“I want to go to Svay Chrum too,” he said. “But I do not know what to do. I already went to Chroy Changva, but they had closed that road too. It’s making it hard for us to get home, I may have to sleep at my workplace.”
Commuters were not the only people who complained of being completely cut off from their destinations.
An ambulance transporting children was stopped at a roadblock near Wat Ounalom in Daun Penh district for about 20 minutes, before turning around and heading back to the oversaturated hospital it had departed from.
Kantha Bopha hospital director Denis Laurent said that hospital staff regularly transport 50 to 60 sick children from Kantha Bopha 2 near Wat Phnom to Kantha Bopha 4 at the Royal Palace—which has 200 more beds.
“Today, we tried to transfer six or eight children to Kantha Bopha 2, but it was not possible. The ambulance was blocked—they wouldn’t let it through—and the driver decided to go back to Kantha Bopha 4 near Wat Phnom,” he said.
“They are now hospitalized there. The most important part is to have the children in the hospital,” he added.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said that ambulances were “not supposed to be” in that area and denied that police patrolling barricades would have blocked the ambulance from passing.
“We allow them to enter. We never stop the ambulance be- cause they are the most important,” he said. “The ambulance [chose] not to enter by itself—they might have been afraid, and they did not want to enter.”
Mr. Tito said that the barricades would remain in place until demonstrations ended and that people living and commuting in Phnom Penh “have to under- stand about the importance of security and public order.”
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