In the aftermath of Wednesday’s politically charged street fight, Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng warned of more violence.
“One day there can be worse trouble….Tomorrow might bring gun fights and the day after tomorrow, there might be grenades with them,” he said in a speech at a Thursday morning conference in Phnom Penh on the subject of “Policy and Controlling Conflicts.”
Sar Kheng, also the Interior co-Minister, asked that people, irregardless of political persuasion, cease to demonstrate.
“We plead with both sides not to stage such illegal [protests] again. It is not useful for the nation and only causes turmoil,” he said.
The comments by the influential CPP official came on the heels of Wednesday evening’s street brawl between supporters of deposed first prime minister Prince Norodom Ranariddh and marchers demanding compensation from the prince for losses suffered during the July 5 and 6 factional fighting.
Sar Kheng said he has taken action to crack down on demonstrations in front of Hotel Le Royal, where the prince has stayed since returning from self-imposed exile on Monday.
Prince Ranariddh told Deutsche Presse-Agentur on Thursday that he was worried the government would try to use the violence as a pretext for banning him from Cambodia again.
“Demonstrations are a basic human right, but there are legal frameworks for any demonstration,” he said. “I beg my supporters not to resort to any form of violence, but we have to address the actions of the other side.”
The government imposed restrictions on demonstrations after the deadly March 30, 1997 grenade attack outside the National Assembly.
Demonstrations require the approval of the municipal authorities before they can be held, although this rule has been flaunted in recent weeks.
Although no large demonstrations or skirmishes broke out Thursday, reports of unruly behavior continued.
A Cambodian national working for the UN Center for Human Rights was beaten Thursday evening, a UN official confirmed.
Another human rights worker said the attack, which led to hospitalization, took place at the squatter camp in Bassac district adjacent to the Russian Embassy on Sothearos Boulevard—where many of the paid anti-Ranariddh protesters have said they live.
The victim had been dispatched to observe for the UN a demonstration that did not take place, the rights worker said.
Another man was severely beaten by undercover policemen at noon near Wat Phnom, the site of Wednesday’s clashes, according to Ung Depor, the deputy chief of municipal police.
The plainclothes municipal policemen reportedly stopped the unidentified man, who was carrying a portrait of the prince, spoke to him briefly then started beating him, eye witnesses told Agence France-Presse.
Uniformed military policemen moved in to stop the beating and then took the three to their headquarters for questioning, according to a human rights worker.
Ung Depor said the two policemen were later released into the custody of the Don Penh district police, which has jurisdiction over the area. Pol Pithey, Don Penh district police chief, said he was too busy Thursday to be interviewed about the matter.
Military police cleared the park in front of the Hotel Le Royal Thursday morning at 9:15 am, pushing several hundred demonstrators, vendors and gawkers down toward Wat Phnom.
They also searched individuals for weapons, and two were arrested for carrying pistols.
Men were observed gathering Thursday at 4:15 pm at the squatter camp along Sothearos Boulevard down an alleyway. Two young men, one with a shotgun and the other with an AK-47, guarded the street and threatened a Cambodia Daily reporter, motioning with their guns to move on.
No demonstrations were seen leaving the camp Thursday.
At the same time, a group of five Funcinpec party members appealed to pro-prince demonstrators south of Wat Phnom to disperse, hoping to avoid another street fight.
“I’m asking them to go home,” said Ky Lum Ang, a Funcinpec parliamentarian said. “I’m afraid there will be trouble if the other people come.”
Mu Sochua, a Funcinpec press coordinator said: “We told them to go home. If they don’t go home, they are not the prince’s supporters.”
Wednesday’s clashes south of the wat left several injured and questions on why it took so long for riot police to arrive.
Riot police did not arrive until 55 minute after street fights involving chunks of concrete and sticks began.
“Maybe it was the bureaucracy,” Khieu Sopheak, spokesman for the Ministry of the Interior said Thursday.
Others interviewed seemed to confirm his assessment. Seng San Phaly, deputy chief of intervention police, said he was not aware that the riot police had arrived late and the orders for them to take action would have to come from Director-General of the National Police Hok Lundy.
According to Neth Saveoun, chief of the municipal police, the riot police were ordered to protect Prince Ranariddh at the nearby Hotel Le Royal, and could not move from their position.
(Reporting by Stew Magnuson, Catherine Philp, Lor Chandara and Kimsan Chantara)