Prime Minister Hun Sen expounded on the virtues and limits of patience in a speech directed at the opposition CNRP on Thursday, as military police officials said they are preparing to implement a government order to prevent a rally at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Sunday.
Speaking at the opening of the Stung Atai hydroelectric dam in Pursat province, Mr. Hun Sen offered instructions as to how those involved in the country’s political arena might be more patient with the current state of affairs.
“To be patient, [you must] do everything you can to understand each other, in order to make a peaceful environment for our nation,” Mr. Hun Sen counseled. “And to trust in each other, you need to build each other’s hearts—in their capacities as politicians, and their capacities as people.”
“I have said since after the election: Don’t let one election become one that breaks the nation,” the prime minister said.
Mr. Hun Sen then offered a joke to demonstrate the limits of patience in human beings in an apparent warning to the CNRP.
He told a story about a monk providing guidance to a woman annoyed by a larger woman who often hit her. The monk initially advised the woman to remain patient and not lash out at her attacker, Mr. Hun Sen explained.
Later, however, the large woman threw a stone directly at the monk’s head, producing a less-than equanimous response.
“Take my alms bowl, and let me fight her!” the monk says.
Mr. Hun Sen said that the joke was instructive for the opposition.
“This is to attest to the fact that the law has its limits, and you can’t go beyond the law,” he said. “If you go beyond the law to reach violence, the law is not patient. Please pull back—now I hear about this word ‘mass.’”
The CNRP held a series of mass demonstrations after the release of the results of the disputed July 28 national election. They peaked in late December with at least 50,000 people marching to demand Mr. Hun Sen immediately stand down or announce a new election, before demonstrations were violently repressed in early January.
The CNRP’s upcoming “people’s congress” planned for Freedom Park on Sunday—with an expected turnout of 5,000 supporters—will be the first such gathering since the lethal wave of repression, which also put an end to a nationwide strike of garment factory workers.
Phnom Penh municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said Thursday that a meeting at City Hall between authorities and CNRP officials Thursday morning had ended with a decision not to allow the opposition to hold its rally.
A commemoration ceremony at the old National Assembly building for victims of the grenade attack on an opposition rally there on March 30, 1997, will be allowed to proceed, Mr. Dimanche said.
But not so for the event at Freedom Park.
“City Hall will not allow it since the city is preserving the place for the court and other relevant institutions to investigate, since there was a complaint concerning the violence on January 3 when they [protesters] detained a city official,” Mr. Dimanche said. “We also have evidence that people from Freedom Park created anarchy and therefore we cannot allow it.”
“If they did it at their office or a private location, we’d allow it.”
On December 23, 100 municipal officials filed a complaint against demonstrators—some who had walked from Freedom Park—for blocking the gates around the municipal hall offices, claiming wrongful detainment. The Ministry of Interior released a detailed report Thursday of the alleged damage done during the last round of CNRP demonstrations.
Authorities Prepare for Rally
Brigadier-General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the national military police, said that his security forces would implement the orders as given.
“We will implement it according to the reality of the situation,” he said. “First, we will ask them [the CNRP] to cooperate and to respect the rule of law. If they do not follow, our second step is to break them up and prevent [the gathering].”
A day after the CNRP announced its plans for the Sunday gathering, municipal military police carried out exercises and kettling drills at their headquarters on Veng Sreng Street in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district.
Brigadier General Rath Srieng, commander of the municipal military police, said the exercise was standard for his forces and not linked to the CNRP rally.
“We’re training to get better and healthier, and we have to do this often—we get up to work out at 5 a.m., it’s quite normal,” Brig. Gen. Srieng said.
“This is important for our health. We have to cut down our bellies, and so we train and teach them ways to work out in order to clean them up.”
Brig. Gen. Srieng said that come Sunday, when CNRP supporters arrive at Freedom Park, he would instruct his forces to follow City Hall’s orders.
“We have to implement our duty and we will follow the relevant ministries and institutions, and we will act according to the rule of law,” he said.