Opposition Warns It May Block All Roads to Phnom Penh

The opposition CNRP on Thursday threatened to block traffic in and out of Phnom Penh along all major roads next month unless the government meets its demands, including new elections and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation.

Mao Monivann, deputy director of the CNRP’s executive committee, said the party leadership had decided on the possibility of blocking roads last week.

In the aftermath of July’s election, the opposition wanted the ruling CPP to conduct a thorough and independent investigation of the vote. CPP officials rejected that request.

During this week’s rallies around Phnom Penh, the opposition raised new demands: to hold a new election and for Prime Minister Hun Sen to step down.

“We will block all the main national roads providing access to Phnom Penh in January, but we haven’t set the date yet,” Mr. Monivann said.

“It is our strategy for a re-election if the government does not find a solution.”

Despite a constant police presence, authorities to date have largely allowed the opposition to wreak minor havoc on city traffic with its numerous protest marches around Phnom Penh since the election.

A deliberate attempt to block major roads would be something new for the opposition, however. And if authorities attempt to dislodge them by force, Mr. Monivann reminded the government that the outside world will be watching.

“The government should understand that if there is a crackdown on the protests, the international community will see, because Cambodia is a member of the U.N. and the International Criminal Court,” he said.

Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said the blocking of roads would be in clear violations of the law.

“According to the traffic law, anyone who blocks the road will be punished according to Article 78,” he said.

That article says that anyone who obstructs public traffic can face up to a year in prison and a fine of up to 2 million riel, about $500.

Asked how authorities would react to such a move by the opposition, Lieutenant General Sopheak said, “We will act according to the law…according to the punishment chapter.”

Military police spokesman Kheng Tito was more direct about the government’s likely reaction.

“If the CNRP blocks all national roads into Phnom Penh it will be illegal, so our forces have to implement the law to break up the protests,” he said. “We will not allow them to do the roadblock; we will prevent them and we will use force depending on the situation.

“They have the right to demonstrate, but they have to avoid impacting the rights of other people,” he added.

The CNRP’s threat to block roads came Thursday on the fifth straight day of protests in Phnom Penh. From Freedom Park, where a few thousand opposition supporters had gathered, CNRP President Sam Rainsy led a two-and-a-half-hour protest drive around the city’s northern outskirts before returning to the park after dusk. Usually accompanied by CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha, Mr. Rainsy said his political companion had gone to the provinces to rally more supporters.

Mr. Rainsy also urged more opposition supporters to join the rallies and, despite the party’s promise to keep the protests going, said Sunday may be the last day.

“Please to all of you, Sunday might be the final day, so please more and more of you come,” he said.

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