The opposition CNRP on Tuesday released a statement demanding an “independent, unbiased investigation” into a violent demonstration in Poipet City on Monday, which saw military police fire warning shots above protesting handcart-pullers, who the city governor claimed were led by a local CNRP official.
About 100 of the handcart-pullers, who are hired by businessmen to transport goods across the Thai-Cambodia border, had set up a road block on National Road 5—demanding that customs officials stop charging them arbitrary fees to cross the Poipet International Checkpoint—when military police moved in to break up the protest.
The protesters later stormed the nearby customs office after false rumors spread that one of the protesters injured during the clash had died, leading military police to open fire to disperse the angry mob, which had destroyed the office’s front gate and a number of vehicles parked outside.
Poipet City governor Ngor Mengchruon sent a report about the protest to Banteay Meanchey provincial governor Kousoum Saroeuth later in the day, alleging that Chao Veasna, a CNRP commune official, led the demonstration and was to blame for the damage.
The CNRP denied the accusation in a statement released Tuesday.
“The CNRP requests to have an independent, unbiased investigation into this incident in order to avoid baseless allegations by determining the real responsibility,” the statement said.
“The CNRP supports and requests to have a peaceful, nonviolent resolution to the workers’ demands in order to ensure and protect their interests as well as freedoms.”
Mr. Mengchruon could not be reached for comment Tuesday, but Mr. Saroeuth said the letter was only a “administrative report” and not necessarily “correct,” adding that he had already launched an investigation into the clash.
“There are two groups investigating this case,” he said. “One from the Interior Ministry cooperating with the Banteay Meanchey provincial police and a second from the military police cooperating with a court prosecutor.”
Mr. Saroeuth added that video footage of the demonstration is being reviewed by both groups.
Mr. Veasna, the CNRP official who is second deputy chief of Poipet commune, said that he was at the demonstration, but only to observe.
“I went to the clash yesterday to monitor both sides, cart-pullers and military police,” he said. “I am not involved with their [the protesters’] action.”
Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that Mr. Mengchruon’s allegation that Mr. Veasna incited workers to attack the customs office was groundless.
“First, there has to be an investigation,” Mr. Chankea said. “In fact, he is blaming Mr. Veasna to avoid his own mistake—he did not keep his promise to the cart-pullers.”
Monday’s protest was the third in the past six months. During a demonstration in December, Mr. Mengchruon promised the cart-pullers that he would instruct customs officials to stop charging arbitrary fees when they cross the border.