With the opposition CNRP set to hold a rally at their party headquarters in Kompong Cham province Sunday, the CPP government deployed hundreds of police and military police to the area as ruling party supporters staged a rival rally, forcing opposition leaders to call off their event for fear of violence.
Men wearing hats emblazoned with CPP logos, waving Cambodian flags, and cheering along with anti-CNRP messages broadcast over a loudspeaker also surrounded the hotel where CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha was staying Sunday morning.
“[The CPP] sent gangsters to interrupt, turn upside down and intimidate CNRP activists and supporters who organized a rally in our main office in Kompong Cham,” Mr. Sokha said at a press conference after returning to Phnom Penh.
After eventually leaving his hotel Sunday morning, Mr. Sokha said he was blocked by government forces when he attempted to drive to the party headquarters for the planned rally.
CNRP chief whip Son Chhay, along with a group of elected opposition lawmakers, arrived at the rally shortly after 11 a.m. to inform a few hundred CNRP supporters that Mr. Sokha would not be making his planned appearance due to the CPP’s obstructions.
“The CPP parked two trucks full of people with loudspeakers directly in front of the party office of the CNRP,” Mr. Chhay said.
A video posted to Facebook shows Mr. Chhay’s voice being drowned out by music blaring from the trucks, with dozens of military police standing between the two rallies.
A video shot outside Mr. Sokha’s hotel Sunday morning shows dozens of men holding up flags and milling about a parking lot. One man is seen holding up a sign that reads, “We vow to protect the Constitution and legitimate government.” Coming from a loudspeaker is the refrain “We don’t need Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha.”
The CNRP received similar treatment from CPP supporters last week in advance of a planned rally in Kandal province. Hundreds of police and military police, along with about 1,000 pro-CPP civilians, occupied a pagoda next to the private residence where the CNRP planned to gather, leading the opposition party to cancel their rally.
The CPP’s show of anti-opposition strength comes after Prime Minister Hun Sen delivered a speech on January 18 calling on ruling party supporters to “be ready to oppose all acts that lack responsibility and have the characteristics of a coup.”
Chan Hor, deputy bureau chief of Kompong Cham’s judicial police, said that CPP supporters, not authorities, had disrupted Sunday’s opposition rally.
“Those who were trying to block [CNRP leaders] were CPP supporters, not authorities,” he said.
Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the military police, said that security forces were simply enforcing a ban on public gatherings.
“This [opposition rally] is against the law,” he said, adding that the CPP was also banned from holding rallies.
An opposition rally on Saturday in Prey Veng province, where Mr. Sokha addressed hundreds of supporters and railed against Mr. Hun Sen’s suppression of constitutional freedoms, was allowed to go ahead unimpeded.