The leader of a group of activist monks promised to wage a “war” against City Hall until Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong publicly apologizes for using force to break up a group of demonstrating monks and anti-eviction protesters who attempted to stage a sit-in Tuesday morning outside municipal offices.
About 10 protesters from the former Boeng Kak lake community and five monks tried to block Monivong Boulevard in front of City Hall at about 8:30 a.m., but were met by military police and security guards who pushed them back onto the sidewalk.
As demonstrators and monks attempted to return to the street, police beat at least one man and allegedly injured three monks.
Dim Chhorn, 40, was grabbed around the neck and hit on the back of the head with a baton before being kicked and thrown to the ground by military police. Mr. Chhorn’s right temple was bruised, with blood coming out of a wound on his head following the clash.
“I am upset that government forces used violence against me because I just helped a monk when I saw military police beating him up,” Mr. Chhorn said, adding that he was in town from Prey Veng province to join the opposition CNRP rallies in nearby Freedom Park.
At about 1 p.m., a group of at least 50 monks affiliated with the Independent Monks’ Network for Social Justice returned to City Hall to demand that Mr. Socheatvong apologize for the alleged injuries of at least three monks that morning at the hands of his security forces.
Speaking to the governor, the Venerable But Buntenh, head of the monks’ network, said, “Please come out to apologize to the monks and the monks will not come to protest tomorrow.”
“If you do not come out to apologize to the monks, tomorrow we will get more monks to come protest here,” But Buntenh announced.
A video posted to Facebook shows the monks arriving at City Hall, tossing aside metal barriers around the entrances and throwing at least one barrier over the wall surrounding the municipality offices.
Another video posted to Facebook shows two young men stepping in front of the monks to throw projectiles at—and ramming a barrier into—information boards outside City Hall, smashing at least three protective glass plates.
As military police began to intervene, But Buntenh called for the monks to withdraw back to Freedom Park.
“Please everyone move back,” But Buntenh told the assembled monks and laypeople. “Let me prepare forces that are equal [to government security forces] and we will sacrifice our life.”
“I am going to develop a new strategy to go to war with City Hall. And once I have 5,000 monks I will do it,” But Buntenh added.
Lieutenant General Mok Chito, acting municipal police chief, denied that police injured any protesters—monks or otherwise—during Tuesday’s scuffles, and said that legal action would be taken against those who damaged public property.
“We will take legal measures according to the law. We have video footage [of the perpetrators],” he said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that about 100 municipal officials have filed a complaint against the demonstrators for wrongful detainment after protesters on Monday blocked the three gates around municipal hall well into the evening, preventing officials from leaving.
“This is illegal activity and the anarchic protesters and monks have destroyed public property. These acts should be punished,” he said.
Following another march by supporters of the opposition CNRP around Phnom Penh on Tuesday afternoon, opposition leader Sam Rainsy told a crowd of about 5,000 people gathered at Freedom Park that Prime Minister Hun Sen was to blame for beating the monks.
“Three monks were injured in front of the City Hall,” Mr. Rainsy said, adding that the prime minister had strayed from his time as a pagoda boy when he was a young man.
“[Mr. Hun Sen] used to eat [the] monk’s rice, but now he hits the monk,” Mr. Rainsy said.