CNRP vice president Kem Sokha said Sunday that the opposition will not heed an order by Phnom Penh City Hall banning marches in the city, and will push forward with plans to march with thousands of supporters to the offices of the U.N. and at least seven embassies during its three-day demonstration starting Wednesday.
The CNRP last week sent a letter to City Hall informing them that its demonstration at Freedom Park—planned to coincide with the anniversary of the signing of the October 23, 1991 Paris Peace Agreement—would include a march with about 20,000 participants to distribute a petition calling on the U.N. and the 18 nations that signed the peace agreement to intervene in the country’s political stalemate.
City Hall on Friday denied permission for the marches, with spokesman Long Dimanche saying that crowds of this size marching through the streets could “affect the traffic, public security and there might be acts of violence.”
With both sides at loggerheads, Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong on Saturday sent a letter to Mr. Sokha inviting him to a meeting at City Hall at 9 a.m. today.
Mr. Sokha said Sunday that he would send representatives to the meeting on his behalf, but the opposition’s plans to march are not up for discussion.
“We’re demanding what we’ve asked for, and we’re not changing our plans. We will demonstrate and march for three days—this is a must,” Mr. Sokha said, clarifying that the opposition had never asked for permission from City Hall but had, as is the law, simply informed the relevant authorities of its plans.
“The government has no right to tell us not to march,” Mr. Sokha said. “They have the right to protect us, and this is their duty…. We have informed them and if they do not fulfill their duty, it is their own responsibility.”
Informed that Mr. Sokha was planning not to attend today’s meeting, Mr. Dimanche said that all talks would be called off unless the opposition leader is present.
“If Mr. Kem Sokha does not come to the meeting no discussions will take place. This is the stance of City Hall,” he said.
The Law on Peaceful Assembly requires that demonstration organizers notify authorities of their plans, and gives authorities the right to reject plans if an event falls on certain public holidays or if there is “clear information” that security, safety or public order could be jeopardized.
A number of smaller demonstrations held over the past two weeks have seen traffic chaos and outbreaks of violence caused by riot and military police who have roughly enforced prohibitions against gatherings and marching by everyone from monks to students attending a memorial service for a slain man.
During a march on October 10, a group of monks pushed their way through multiple lines of riot and military police set up around Wat Phnom to allow anti-land-grabbing activists to deliver a petition to nearby City Hall. On Friday, district security forces punched and shouted abuse at mourners who had gathered around Wat Phnom to hold a memorial ceremony for a man shot dead by police during a three-day mass demonstration held by the CNRP last month.
The shooting occurred after commuters, including opposition supporters traveling home, became angry after authorities blocked roads around Monivong Bridge causing a huge tail back and severe congestion that lasted for hours.
Long Ry, a CNRP lawmaker-elect for Banteay Meanchey province and the head of security for the opposition, said that the meeting between Mr. Socheatvong and the CNRP this morning would render a “solution” to the disagreement with authorities over the planned marching.
Mr. Ry also said that CNRP organizers were now well trained in how to avoid violence, and that the opposition party was not concerned by comments from military police spokesman Kheng Tito last week that military police would “crack down” if marchers try to force their way past police.
“If there is violence, we won’t fight back,” Mr. Ry said. “We will sit down and let them hit us, but still try our best to fulfill our demand to hand the petition to the embassies and U.N.”
Since official election results were released on September 8 the CNRP has called for a transparent investigation into alleged irregularities during the July national election and has continued to boycott the National Assembly on the grounds that the election results were unfair.
Despite having only 13 seats more than the opposition in parliament, Prime Minister Hun Sen has inaugurated a new one-party National Assembly despite strong arguments regarding the constitutionality of the move.