CNRP Marches Through Phnom Penh, Delivers Petition to UN

More than 10,000 opposition CNRP supporters marched from Freedom Park to the U.N.’s human rights office in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to deliver a petition urging signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement to intervene in the country’s current political deadlock.

The march marked the climax of the first day of the CNRP’s three-day mass demonstration, which opened at Freedom Park at 8 a.m. and was timed to coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Paris Agreement in 1991 that promised a liberal and plural democracy for Cambodia.

Supporters of the opposition CNRP take part in a march through Phnom Penh on Wednesday to deliver a petition with more than 2 million signatures to the U.N.'s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calling for international intervention in the country's post-election dispute. (Siv Channa)
Supporters of the opposition CNRP take part in a march through Phnom Penh on Wednesday to deliver a petition with more than 2 million signatures to the U.N.’s Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights calling for international intervention in the country’s post-election dispute. (Siv Channa)

After a morning of speeches and music that has marked the CNRP’s campaigns and demonstrations alike, CNRP president Sam Rainsy and vice president Kem Sokha arrived at Freedom Park between 2:30 p.m. and 3 loud cheers.

More than 20,000 people thronged the park and its surrounding streets to hear the two leaders deliver speeches about their petition and the Paris Peace Agreement, before about half the people in attendance followed them toward Street 51 to deliver the petition to the U.N.’s human rights office.

CNRP security guards dressed in dark green and black formed a hu­man line around Mr. Rainsy, Mr. Sokha and CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua as they led the demonstration down Street 51 at about 3:30 p.m., keeping the marchers moving swiftly as many tried to stop and take photographs of the leaders.

Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha spent much of their time dodging excited supporters and returning waves to onlookers who lined the sides of the street, clapping and shouting “change, change.”

When the two leaders arrived at the statue of slain union leader Chea Vichea on Sihanouk Boulevard, they both briefly knelt down to pray.

Arriving at the junction of streets 51 and 302 at about 4:30 p.m, Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha lead a small group of marchers—as per an agreement with City Hall made Tuesday—toward the Office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

The leaders entered the OHCHR building, while four CNRP supporters unloaded boxes of signed petitions papers from a truck and handed them over to U.N. staff waiting at the gate.

The CNRP’s petition calls on the U.N. and the 18 countries that signed the Paris Peace Agreement in 1991 to ensure multiparty democracy and the respect of human rights in Cambodia in the wake of the disputed result of the July 28 national election and the government’s heavy-handed response to its first three-day mass demonstration last month.

The opposition says it collected the signatures and thumbprints of 2,032,652 people over the past two weeks.

Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha emerged from the OHCHR office about five minutes after entering and gave an impromptu press conference to reporters waiting in front of the gate.

“We are very happy to have handed more than 2 million thumbprints to the U.N. office in Cambodia and we are very grateful to the representative of the U.N. to have accepted those thumbprints,” Mr. Rainsy said.

“We’ve asked the U.N. to help find justice for the Cambodian people, to help ensure the will of the Cambodian people is recognized and to ensure respect for the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement,” he said.

Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha then returned to the junction of Street 51 at about 4:45 p.m. to loud cheers from the crowd, which had been waiting under the pur­view of a small group of military and riot police.

On the way back to Freedom Park, Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha briefly detoured toward a set of light red-and-white barricades set up on Sihanouk Boulevard aimed at preventing marchers from making their way off Street 51 and toward Independence Monument and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house.

Clasping their hands together above their heads in a gesture that has become a symbol of the opposition’s unity since the merging of the Sam Rainsy Party and Hu­man Rights Party in July 2012, Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha smiled as dozens of police in riot gear milled behind them.

Arriving back at the park just after 5:30 p.m., Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha greeted the again packed crowd before closing proceedings for the day.

“The U.N. has received more than 2 million thumbprints from us and we will win when we have collected more than 3 million,” Mr. Rainsy said, before promising the crowd a Cambodia governed by the CNRP without corruption and land grabbing.

Before the march, Mr. Sokha had energized the more than 20,000 at Freedom Park and its environs by linking the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement to the political situation in the country today.

Mr. Sokha asked the crowd whether Cambodia had become a nation that is democratic, independent and free from foreign invasion since 1991, to emphatic responses of “No!” from the crowd each time.

“Any country that is led by only one party, how is that country going?” Mr. Sokha then asked the crowd, using their response to explain the need to petition the U.N.

“If we don’t agree to being led by only one party, we must demonstrate in order to have multiparty leadership,” he said.

Mr. Rainsy also spoke of the government’s last-minute reversal on its steadfast insistence that the CNRP would not be allowed to march through the streets.

“The CPP do not want us to hold a big demonstration like this because it shows the will of the people,” he said, before taking the opportunity to taunt the government.

“For the CPP, they cannot hold such a big demonstration like this, they cannot do it like us,” he said.

Despite the demonstration and march running smoothly and peacefully, Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chuon Sovann criticized the CNRP’s handling of the day and called upon party leaders to respect the agreement they made with authorities on Tuesday evening.

“What we noticed that made us disappointed is that the deputy and president of the party…could not manage the demonstrators and allowed them to go to prohibited locations [during the march],” Mr. Sovann said, without specifying where the marchers allegedly veered off course.

“In the meeting, we had also re­quested them and City Hall to al­low 1,000 to 5,000 to march, but now there was about 10,000 people who marched—this is their violation and it shows they did not respect the agreement,” he added.

The CNRP informed City Hall on October 17 that it would march through the streets of Phnom Penh over the three consecutive days of its mass demonstration, a decision that authorities had steadfastly maintained was illegal until Interior Minister Sar Kheng made a last-minute intervention on Monday night. On Tuesday, the Ministry of Interior said it would allow 1,000 people to march through the streets over the three-day period.

Mr. Rainsy said by telephone after the demonstration’s close Wednesday that he had spoken with Mr. Kheng both before and after the march to the U.N., and that relations with the authorities remain cordial.

“We are both satisfied because there was no violence whatsoever,” he said. “Sar Kheng told me he had instructed the police to exercise [restraint], which I can confirm. And on our behalf, we abided by our code of ethics…and our agreement with the authorities.”

Mr. Rainsy added that given how smoothly the march had gone, the police chief’s concerns about numbers who took to the streets were beside the point.

“He must understand, I cannot restrict the number to 1,000,” Mr. Rainsy said. “What is important is that the march is peaceful. Whether it is 1,000 or 5,000 it doesn’t matter.”

Municipal spokesman Long Di­manche said that at a meeting held with CNRP representatives last night at City Hall, the opposition had agreed to cut down the number of participants taking to the streets during marches to embassies Thursday and Friday.

The CNRP’s three-day mass demonstration enters its second day Thursday. Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha will lead demonstrators north from Freedom Park from 8 a.m., delivering letters of notice of the petition lodged with the OHCHR to the embassies of the U.S., U.K. and France.

Mr. Rainsy said that about 2,000 were set to camp out at Freedom Park last night, despite City Hall saying that camping at the park was prohibited.

(Reporting by Khy Sovuthy, Alex Willemyns, Mech Dara, Aun Pheap, Colin Meyn and Ben Woods)

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