Opposition Visit to Oddar Meanchey Marked by Obstacles

Opposition leader Sam Rainsy and a convoy of CNRP officials had a rocky tour through the northwestern province of Oddar Meanchey on Wednesday.

Mr. Rainsy said he was greeted by hostile protesters upon arriving in the province, with his convoy also blocked while attempting to visit a pagoda in the province’s Samraong City.

CNRP security chief Long Ry, third from left, stands next to an SUV belonging to the director of the Oddar Meanchey provincial cults and religion department at the entrance to a pagoda in Samraong City yesterday, in a photo posted to the CNRP Radio Facebook page.
CNRP security chief Long Ry, third from left, stands next to an SUV belonging to the director of the Oddar Meanchey provincial cults and religion department at the entrance to a pagoda in Samraong City yesterday, in a photo posted to the CNRP Radio Facebook page.

The CNRP president said he was then forced to call off a visit to Anlong Veng district after “thugs” and what he said were plainclothes soldiers surrounded a house where he had planned to address party faithful.

A military commander denied the claim.

Kem Kosal, who led the about 300 demonstrators that confronted Mr. Rainsy as he entered Samraong City on Wednesday morning, said they were all former CNRP supporters who had grown tired of Mr. Rainsy’s politics.

“He always gives lies to villagers and his activists who vote for his CNRP party,” Mr. Kosal said.

Mr. Rainsy’s convoy passed by the protesters, who were gathered at a roundabout on the outskirts of the city, before the group boarded 20 tractors and drove through the streets of Samraong for the duration of his morning visit.

In August, Mr. Kosal, a former CNRP provincial council candidate, led what he said were 564 disgruntled CNRP activists in a defection to the CPP, a move that was described as a political ruse by opposition officials.

One of the protesters who turned out Wednesday, declining to be named for fear of retribution, said he was not aware that he would be attending a demonstration against Mr. Rainsy.

“I just followed other villagers because we were told we were traveling to join a meeting in the provincial town,” he said. “If I knew it was a protest against him, other villagers and I would not have been there.”

Another protester in attendance, who also asked not to be identified, said he had been paid $5 to join the defection ceremony in August and thought Wednesday’s demonstration would be similar.

“We are poor so we hoped to get money again from attending the meeting. But we got nothing,” he said.

Mr. Kosal denied that villagers had been tricked into joining the demonstration, but admitted that there had been some mix-ups.

“I acknowledge that there were some people who were confused that came with me to get a donation,” he said.

After passing the protesters at the edge of the city, Mr. Rainsy’s entourage continued on to Wat Reachea Samraong, but was blocked from entering by Chhim Toeu, director of the provincial cults and religion department.

Mr. Toeu said that he parked his Toyota Land Cruiser in front of the compound’s entrance at the behest of his superiors.

“I did it because I was just following orders from the upper level,” he said, declining to say who issued the order.

Kinh Vannak, acting executive director of the CNRP’s provincial committee, said Mr. Rainsy met with about 300 supporters at the party’s provincial headquarters after the pagoda incident.

After stopping in Samraong, Mr. Rainsy said he also planned to address supporters in Anlong Veng, but called off the visit because “hundreds” of mostly plainclothes men gathered near the home of a local activist where the event was set to take place.

Mr. Rainsy said he believed that many of those gathered were from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), as they had arrived on military trucks.

“I didn’t want to expose our supporters to any form of violence and I decided to call it off,” he said.

Yim Phanna, deputy commander for RCAF’s Military Region 4, denied deploying soldiers to threaten Mr. Rainsy and his supporters.

“Basically, there are no soldiers in uniform or in plainclothes deployed to threaten him,” Major General Phanna said. “As we all know, this area is a military area so it’s normal that there is military driving trucks around.”

(Additional reporting by Anthony Jensen)

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