Prime Minister Hun Sen’s official state visit to Paris to meet with French President Francois Hollande was marked by protests and controversy after allegations arose that the prime minister had required Cambodian students studying in France to attend a talk he was set to give yesterday or have their scholarships revoked.
In a video posted to his Facebook page on Saturday, Mr. Hun Sen denounced the rumor as a slanderous ploy by the opposition CNRP.
“I saw on a Facebook page of our students in France that a radio there reported that…if they do not come, their scholarship will be taken away,” the prime minister said. “I have never forced anybody to listen to me.”
“I am beyond belief and ashamed for the opposition party that they can possibly deceive the people,” Mr. Hun Sen added. “I would like to appeal to the president of the opposition party to stop the deception.”
Speaking from Switzerland, opposition leader Sam Rainsy, a French citizen who has lived in Paris for long stretches of his life, said he was not involved in spreading the claims.
“It could be true, it could be not true,” he said of the threat to revoke scholarships.
“I am not involved,” he added. “They should not accuse like this.”
As part of his four-day visit, Mr. Hun Sen is set to sign six agreements with France, including an extradition treaty and an agreement on developing vocational training. He also planned to meet yesterday with 700 people living in France.
Mr. Hun Sen’s visit has prompted various demonstrations among the large Cambodian community in France, the first of which took place on Saturday in Paris’ Trocadero plaza and was attended by students, monks and other protesters to commemorate the Paris Peace Agreement, which was signed on October 23, 1991.
In photos and videos posted to Facebook, the protesters accuse the government of failing to uphold the principles of the accord, with many of them holding up signs calling for Mr. Hun Sen to step down.
“Cambodian citizens demanding their fundamental rights are harmed by armed public forces before being imprisoned,” one demonstrator said. “We demand the country, the authorities to respect the principles of democracy.”
Another protest was planned for yesterday afternoon in front of the Cambodian Embassy.
“Now in Cambodia there is no rule of law and there are arbitrary arrests,” said Francois Chen, one of the organizers. “There is no justice for Cambodians.”
The CPP responded to Saturday’s protest with a statement blasting the CNRP.
“The protest…is not a protest belonging to the Cambodian people but it was held by a few opposition supporters and its leader in order to serve the opposition’s political objectives,” a CPP spokesman said in the statement, dated Saturday.
“All incitement and exaggeration is a serious threat to national unity, national security and peace,” it said.
Mr. Rainsy denied any involvement in the protests.
“I had nothing to do with it,” Mr. Rainsy said. “The people have the right to do what they want as long as it is legal and peaceful.”