Public access to a new statue of the late King Father Norodom Sihanouk near Phnom Penh’s Independence Monument continued to be tightly regulated Wednesday, one day after the anniversary of the monarch’s death, while armed military police remained stationed on street corners.
People who came to pray at the statue yesterday were forced to do so under the gaze of several dozen security guards and police—some in plain clothes—and only after making their way through a single gap in a metal barricade surrounding the statue, which was also manned by police.
“Our armed forces are deployed because we have enough to spare, and because…certain people have still not joined the government,” military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito said yesterday, referring to the opposition CNRP, who boycotted the opening session of the National Assembly last month in protest of election results.
“If something happens, it will be easy to intervene,” Brig. Gen. Tito said.
On Tuesday morning, Prime Minister Hun Sen and senior CPP officials held an anniversary ceremony at the $1.2 million bronze-colored statue far removed from the public, who were kept from coming within several blocks of the area by roadblocks and hundreds of police.
Regular citizens were not allowed to pay their respects at the statue until Tuesday afternoon.
According to the Ministry of Culture, no more than 30 people are allowed to walk up to the statue at a time, and vendors are required to stay 4 meters from the barricade.
“If we didn’t put the barricades up, people would come from every direction, and this could cause disorder,” said Mr. Chan Phal, deputy director of the municipal department of culture and fine arts, adding that he did not know when the barricades would be removed, but that the decision would be made by City Hall.
Nuon Vannak, 34, who came to pray at the statue from his home in Meanchey district, said the decision to keep the public away reflected the ruling party’s diminished popularity.
“I think they are worried that the people would bother them, because many people do not support them. They blocked the roads [Tuesday] because they are afraid of their own citizens.”
“This is discrimination,” said Chheng Sry, 34, from Tuol Kok district.
“The government should let anyone pay their respects to the late King Father at any time,” she added.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said the extreme security measures were an ill-concealed attempt to keep people from outside Phnom Penh away from the city center.
“They do not want the people flowing to the city from the provinces because they are afraid that those people will join the demonstration,” Mr. Sovann said, referring to the opposition’s planned mass protest on Wednesday to coincide with the anniversary of the 1991 Paris Peace Agreement.