Daun Penh Authorities Deny Involvement in Wat Phnom Attack

Some 50 members of the Boeng Kak and Borei Keila communities—many still bearing welts and bruises—walked to Phnom Penh’s Daun Penh district offices Tuesday and blamed officials there for a violent attack that broke out at Wat Phnom on Sunday night as they were peacefully protesting.

Officials from Daun Penh district on Tuesday categorically denied any involvement in the violent attack.

Late Sunday night, police and masked, plainclothes men armed with batons, electric prods and slingshots attacked a group of about 30 mostly female anti-eviction activists conducting a hunger strike to protest contested election results, then turned their weapons on rights workers and journalists.

“Our authorities were not in­volved in this incident,” said deputy district governor Chhim Dina. “We know nothing about the violence.”

Shortly after the attack, however, a journalist witnessed a truck transporting about 20 mostly young men, wearing masks and carrying batons, leaving Wat Phnom and driving into the Daun Penh district offices accompanied by a Lexus SUV.

The protesters on Tuesday went to the district offices in order to demand the return of two tuk-tuks and two motorbikes belonging to them that had been confiscated sometime after the attack.

When the protesters were prevented from reaching the street in front of the district office by razor-wire barricades and district security guards, the women dismantled the blockade and continued to the gates in front of the offices, where three representatives were allowed inside to meet with Mr. Dina, as well as deputy Phnom Penh police chief Choun Narin and chief of public security for Daun Penh Kim Vutha.

Although authorities released the impounded vehicles following the hourlong meeting, they continued to deny orchestrating the vicious attack

“I do not know about this violence,” Mr. Vutha told reporters afterward. “District authorities denied what they had done,” said anti-eviction activist Tep Vanny, who participated in the meeting.

“If this was not organized by the authorities, it would not have happened,” she said, adding that King Norodom Sihamoni and Queen Mother Norodom Moni­neath had since donated $1,200 to the victims of the Wat Phnom violence, including Ms. Vanny’s 64-year-old mother, Sy Heap, who is still in the hospital recovering from a wound between her eyes, where she was struck by a large marble fired at close range from a slingshot.

Ms. Vanny also expressed disappointment that the opposition CNRP—whose lawmakers returned Tuesday from Siem Reap, where they had gone to boycott the opening session of the National Assembly on Monday—had yet to publicly condemn the attack.

In a joint statement Tuesday, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and three other rights groups decried the government’s recent use of “excessive force” against peaceful demonstrators, citing the Wat Phnom attack as an example. The U.S. Embassy has called the incident “disturbing.”

“We felt isolated when we didn’t hear any reaction from the CNRP,” Ms. Vanny said.

“Why did they not produce a statement or response about the incident, as we were seeking electoral justice and transparency through our hunger strike?” she said.

CNRP chief whip Son Chhay said that while he deeply regretted the incident Sunday, his party has been distracted by other matters.

“We have so many serious is­sues in front of us regarding to the CPP illegally [convening] parliament and other stuff,” Mr. Chhay said.

Independent researcher Kem Ley said that if the CNRP continues to be distracted by political maneuvering, sentiments like Ms. Vanny’s will spread, even among the party’s supporters.

“They just look at the rules, the National Assembly, the government, but they have forgotten to look at the whole,” Mr. Ley said.

“Right now, they [activists] are trying their best to talk to CNRP leaders…but they [the CNRP] have very little time to talk to them.”

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