The Ministry of Interior announced Tuesday in a last minute meeting that it would allow the opposition CNRP to take 1,000 people through the streets of Phnom Penh to deliver a petition to the U.N. and eight foreign embassies during its three-day mass demonstration that starts Wednesday.
The meeting at Phnom Penh City Hall came a day after Interior Minister Sar Kheng issued a statement calling on City Hall to come to an agreement with the CNRP to provide secure passage through the city for members of the opposition to deliver a petition calling for foreign embassies to intervene in the current political deadlock.
City Hall had previously maintained that the CNRP would not be allowed to march during its demonstration, while opposition leaders repeatedly said such a decree had no legal legitimacy and would not be respected.
A statement released during the meeting Tuesday and signed by Phnom Penh municipal governor Pa Socheatvong duplicated much of Mr. Kheng’s statement Monday but specified that 1,000 people could now march through the city.
“The people who take the petitions to embassies shall not exceed 1,000 in number in order to maintain security, social safety and public order, as well as to avoid traffic jams and to control the protesters,” the statement says.
Only 10 representatives will be allowed to actually hand over the petitions at the embassies, the statement adds.
The CNRP’s three-day mass demonstration is timed to coincide with the 22nd anniversary of the signing of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement, which falls today.
The party has spent the past two weeks collecting thumbprints and signatures for a petition calling on the U.N. and the 18 governments who signed the 1991 agreement to intervene to ensure the survival of multiparty democracy in Cambodia in the wake of the disputed results of the July 28 national election.
Emerging from the three-hour meeting at City Hall just before 5 p.m. Tuesday, CNRP lawmaker-elect Kouy Bunroeun, who has taken a lead role in negotiations with the CPP government of Prime Minister Hun Sen since the disputed election, said that CNRP and City Hall had agreed upon the times and routes for the marches that begin today.
“On the 23rd, we will start at 3 p.m. a march to the U.N. offices,” Mr. Bunroeun said. “On the 24th, at 8 a.m. we will march from Freedom Park to the French, British and U.S. embassies. On the 25th, we will march at 8 a.m. to the embassies of Australia, Russia, Japan, Indonesia and then finish the day at the Chinese Embassy.”
“The Ministry of Interior has asked us to keep it under 1,000 people but we asked for 5,000,” he said. “We will start with 1,000 and maybe others will join.”
Lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua, the lead organizer of the demonstration, was more emphatic about the opposition’s predictions.
“We asked for 5,000 and we plan for 5,000. If they want to count 1,000, that’s up to them,” she said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that the decision to specifically allow 1,000 people to march during the opposition’s demonstration came on the direct orders of the Ministry of Interior.
“This decision is from the Ministry of Interior. We have no right to make this decision,” he said, explaining that City Hall had followed the interior minister’s orders to agree upon a plan with the CNRP.
“The road they will use [today] is Street 51,” he said. “They will march until Street 302, where the demonstrators will wait and five representatives will go to the [U.N.] office and then they will return to Freedom Park.”
Mr. Dimanche explained that while 1,000 people would be allowed to march throughout the city, the marches would have to stop at least 100 meters away from each embassy while representatives would then be allowed to walk the remaining journey to each compound.
“We have received requests from the embassies saying they do not want the demonstrators walking past their embassies,” he said.
The City Hall spokesman also outlined the agreed-upon routes for Thursday and Friday morning’s marches.
On Thursday, protesters will march north from Freedom Park along Street 61 to hand a petition to the nearby U.S. Embassy. They will then continue along the road to the junction with Street 47, which connects to Wat Phnom.
According to the agreement, marchers will then wait as representatives walk on their own to deliver letters to the nearby embassies of France and the U.K, and then make their way back toward Freedom Park by 10:30 a.m.
On Friday, demonstrators will again head down Street 51 until they reach Street 302, where they will head east toward the river. Marchers will wait near the junction of Street 294 and Sothearos Boulevard while leaders deliver letters to the Australian and Russian embassies.
The march will then head south along Norodom Boulevard and go on to Mao Tse Tung Boulevard, where letters will be delivered to the Japanese and Chinese embassies. At around 11 a.m. Friday, marchers will head for Monivong Boulevard, and journey up the road to Street 110 in order to re-enter Freedom Park.
City Hall also released a statement asking residents of Phnom Penh to steer clear of the roads being used by demonstrators during the agreed-upon times.
Municipal police chief Chuon Sovann, who was present at Tuesday’s meeting, said that if more than 1,000 people take to the streets over the next three days, it would show that the CNRP negotiates in bad faith.
“If they go ahead with more than the number [of people] set by City Hall, it will show…the nature of the CNRP’s implementation of the law,” he said.
National military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said that security would be put in place by the municipality to protect demonstrators as they march but that military police would be on call to enforce the agreement made Tuesday if necessary.
“We will use police to maintain public order, but if police lose control we will send military police to crack down on the demonstrators until we win,” he said.
Marie-Dominique Parent, officer in charge and deputy representative of the U.N. Office of the High Commission for Human Rights in Phnom Penh, said on Thursday that the U.N. office would receive the CNRP’s petition when it is delivered and would send it to U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon’s office in New York.
Representatives for the French, Japanese and Indonesian embassies said Tuesday that they too would receive the CNRP’s petition as a matter of diplomatic course, while representatives for the embassies of the U.S., U.K. and Australia declined to say whether they would or not. The Russian Embassy could not be reached.
Cheng Hongbo, chief of the political section at the Chinese Embassy, said his embassy would consider accepting the petition only after it receives a formal request from the CNRP.
Mr. Bunroeun of the CNRP said that the party had sent a letter to the Chinese Embassy on Tuesday evening.
The CNRP says it has collected more than 2 million thumbprints for its petition calling on intervention in the country from signatories of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement to ensure respect for human rights and democracy.
(Additional reporting by Kim Chan and Aun Pheap)