The CNRP has vowed to go ahead with a demonstration on Sunday in Phnom Penh to mark the 25th anniversary of the Paris Peace Agreements, even after authorities banned it—ostensibly out of fear of conflict between opposition supporters and other groups.
City Hall on Wednesday announced it had rejected a CNRP proposal to hold a rally at Freedom Park to mark the anniversary of the accord, which led to a two-year peace-building mission by the U.N. and the return of democratic elections in 1993.
Contacted on Friday, City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada reiterated that the rally would not be allowed to proceed, citing the potential for “problems” between CNRP supporters and other groups, including students led by anti-opposition activist Srey Chamroeun, who he said also had a rally request rejected.
“We rejected the CNRP’s request to hold the event. They can do it at their headquarters, it’s not different from Freedom Park,” Mr. Chanyada said.
“We rejected about five groups who made requests, including [labor union] IDEA and Srey Chamroeun, because we are worried about them facing problems with each other, so we cannot just allow one group and reject other groups.”
The plans to rally at Freedom Park come amid a relative lull in tension between the CNRP and the ruling CPP after the opposition appeared to back away from plans last month to wage mass protests in response to deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha being sentenced to five months in jail on charges widely perceived as politically motivated.
After Prime Minister Hun Sen reacted by promising to “eliminate” opponents who took to the streets, the opposition’s threats dissipated and they agreed to end their boycott of parliament—though those plans were also changed at the last minute due to safety concerns.
Despite the ban, the CNRP maintained on Friday that the event—which they claim will draw 7,000 supporters—will go ahead.
“There will be 7,000 people,” CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said. “It’s not a demonstration or protest.”
Rather than banning the rally, Mr. Sovann said the CPP should join with the opposition to commemorate the event.
“I think we have done nothing wrong because everybody is congratulating the Paris Peace Agreements. Why not?” he said. “We and the ruling party should come together.”
During a speech to supporters at the CNRP’s headquarters on Friday morning, lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang said only the Interior Ministry could make a decision to ban the event if there were legitimate security concerns.
“City Hall cannot decide about our request and plan for 7,000 [people],” he said. “We will hold it.”
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak could not be reached.
City Hall released a statement on Friday explaining that the rally had been banned as “it is not appropriate” since the principles of the accord had already had enshrined in the Constitution.
Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the rally ban was necessary as “too many parties” wanted to do the same thing. He directed further questioning to City Hall.
Mr. Chanyada, the municipal spokesman, was coy about how authorities would deal with opposition supporters if they did press ahead with the demonstration.
“We will wait and see what they do in reality,” he said. “I cannot tell you about security as it is an internal matter, whether we are preparing or not.”