Police have countered the CNRP’s plan to gather thousands of supporters in Phnom Penh for Friday’s trial of deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha with a strategy of its own—checkpoints on all highways leading into the city.
City Hall on Wednesday authorized a gathering outside the CNRP’s headquarters. However, Eav Chamroeun, the police chief for Kandal province, which surrounds the capital, said his forces would be monitoring all opposition supporters entering the city.
“The CNRP mostly does not respect the law,” Mr. Chamroeun said. “We want everybody to respect the law. They should get legal permission for anything that they do, and then we would allow them to do it in accordance with the authorization of City Hall.”
Mr. Chamroeun would not say whether CNRP supporters would be prevented from entering the city, only that the checkpoints would be set up along all major roads leading into the city.
Coverage will go beyond Prek Anhchanh, an area of the province that borders Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changva district on National Road 6, the main entry point from northern provinces, he said.
“We are organizing it around Phnom Penh within Kandal province’s land.”
At least one checkpoint along National Road 6 had already been set up in Prek Anhchanh on Wednesday, equipped with wooden barricades lined with razor-wire.
The CNRP says it expects thousands of supporters to gather in front of its headquarters, where Mr. Sokha has been holed up since police tried to arrest him on May 26, and others to congregate at the courthouse. Party officials have said Mr. Sokha will not attend the trial, as the case against him is illegal.
Mr. Sokha stands accused of refusing to appear in court when called for questioning over a “prostitution” case against his alleged mistress. The opposition has argued his immunity from prosecution as a lawmaker precludes him from having to appear.
City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada said a meeting on Wednesday with CNRP officials resulted in authorities agreeing to allow the gathering, but only if supporters did not spill out from their headquarters onto the roads—an unlikely proposition if previous demonstrations are any indication.
“We allowed them to hold a meeting within their structure with members from the National Assembly, senators, district and commune councilors. Inside the compound of the party headquarters, we do not object,” Mr. Chanyada said.
“The number is not limited, but they agreed, firstly, that they would not use the streets for their gathering, and secondly, that they are not allowed to park their vehicles on the street, causing traffic congestion for those traveling on the streets,” he said.
Asked what would happen if the CNRP violated the rules, Mr. Chanyada said that authorities would take “legal and administrative measures,” but he did not elaborate beyond saying that security forces would be posted outside the building to keep order.
“We need to respect each other,” he said.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the party intended to stick to its word from Wednesday’s meeting with City Hall and that he hoped Friday’s gathering outside the headquarters would be uneventful.
“We do not have any plans to march. We will gather at the party headquarters, and we want to see the way the situation proceeds with the court hearing. From past experience, we know we can respect each other,” Mr. Sovann said.
He admitted it could become difficult to stop people from spilling onto the road.
“The headquarters is a little bit small, so of course there could be people out on the sidewalks,” he said. “We cannot avoid that, but we will work to keep order.”
Mr. Sovann said that he was not impressed with the Kandal provincial police’s plans to set up checkpoints.
“They should not do that because we will be respecting the law. People want to show concern for their leaders, so why not let them come?” he said.
The CNRP has described the government’s aggressive prosecution of Mr. Sokha—Prime Minister Hun Sen himself claimed to have proof of one of his affairs on his smartphone—as an attempt to silence its foes before the commune council elections in June next year.
The CNRP has been effectively neutered since late May when police tried to arrest Mr. Sokha, and he retreated inside the CNRP building. Opposition leader Sam Rainsy has been out of action since November, when he fled to Paris to avoid being jailed.
The government has repeatedly said that it is simply enforcing Cambodia’s laws and is unable to interfere with court decisions.
(Additional reporting by Alex Willemyns)