Police Block Actress Farrow’s Tuol Sleng Protest

Around 100 armed police and military police Sunday blocked Mia Farrow’s Dream for Darfur delegation from entering the Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum, preventing a planned ceremony to raise awareness of the crisis in Sudan’s Darfur region.

The US actress’ group, along with co-host Center for Social De­velopment and 30 Khmer Rouge survivors, planned to light a symbolic Olympic torch at Tuol Sleng in a ceremony similar to those Dream for Darfur has held in five other countries where people were victims of mass killings.

Shortly after 9 am, CSD Execu­tive Director Theary Seng told re­porters at the CSD office that police had blocked off all roads to Tuol Sleng and that, in the interest of safety, only eight representatives would be going to the museum.

Farrow and Theary Seng ap­proached the police blockade near the museum holding lotus flowers, and attempted to convince the au­thorities to let them pass. Tension rose about 25 minutes later when police pushed back both Farrow and Theary Seng, who then retreated with their delegation to nearby CSD vehicles. Nobody was injured.

“Our hearts are breaking for what happened in Cambodia to­day,” Farrow said during a press conference that followed the standoff.

Farrow went on to accuse Chi­na of using its influence over Cambodia to stop the ceremony.

“The Chinese government tried to prevent us from commemorating the genocide in Cambodia and to deny survivors the opportunity to show solidarity with the people of Darfur,” Farrow said, adding that Beijing should exert similar pressure to end the genocide in Darfur.

CSD and the US Embassy stated previously that the planned ceremony had nothing to do with Chi­na, despite the fact that Dream for Darfur’s world tour had been focus­ed on pressuring China—Sudan’s largest trading partner—to use its influence to encourage peace in Darfur.

Theary Seng said that criticism of China at Sunday’s press conference was only in reaction to the po­lice blockade.

“Until this morning we were fo­cusing on Darfur and the victims… but after what occurred this morning we found that we were forced to speak out,” Theary Seng said. “The focus on China was a last-minute decision.”

She added that Dream for Dar­fur had obtained official permission to hold the ceremony at Tuol Sleng from the Ministry of Culture.

Officials at the Ministry of Cul­ture could not be reached for comment Sunday.

Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kan­harith defended the decision to block Farrow’s group from entering the museum, accusing Dream for Darfur of intending to pressure China at its ceremony.

“[T]hese people don’t have any intention to commemorate the Khmer Rouge’s victims, but in­stead use the latter as a tool to ‘put pressure’ on China,” he wrote by e-mail Sunday evening.

Khieu Kanharith likened Farrow to another US actress and activist, Jane Fonda, who in 1972 famously visited Vietnam to protest the US war there. But he added that while bringing attention to problems in Darfur may be a worthy cause, Cambodia is not an appropriate lo­cation for such activities.

“Handling the issue like Cambo­dia is just a playground is unacceptable,” he wrote.

Nguon Nhel, first vice president of the National Assembly, denied Farrow’s accusation that China in­fluenced the government to stop the event.

“China did not interfere in this,” he said by telephone.

A diplomat with the Chinese Em­bassy reiterated that Cambodia de­cided on its own to block the event.

“Cambodia is a sovereign country and it has its own Constitution,” the diplomat said on condition of anonymity. “Obeying the [local] laws is a form of respect for human rights.”

Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Touch Naruth denied that police pushed Farrow and Theary Seng, praising his officers for their handling of the blockade.

“We did not use any violence on those who had no permission to celebrate the ceremony,” he said.

US Ambassador Joseph Musso­meli, who was listed by Dream for Darfur as one of the ceremony’s at­tendees, was absent from Sunday’s event.

Jeff Daigle, spokesman for the US Embassy, said Mussomeli did not attend the ceremony “be­cause the event had become so politicized.”

“We regret that the Dream for Darfur were not able to pay their re­spect to victims of genocide,” he said.

The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, the Committee for Free and Fair Elections and Dream for Darfur issued a joint statement Sunday condemning the government for not allowing the ceremony.

“The decision made by State au­thorities of not allowing this event to take place reflected a dubious im­age of the Cambodian government with regard to its respect for the constitutional rights of its citizens, especially by imposing restrictions on the exercise of the freedom of assembly by the Cambodian people,” the statement said.

However, former CSD President Chea Vannath said that it was not unusual for the government to be concerned about events that may be critical of countries with which it has close ties, such as China and Vietnam.

“I think it was a prudent move from the government side,” she said. “There are a lot of allowable demonstrations that the government allows to happen.”

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