A nationwide march to commemorate Human Rights Day next week got off to a confrontational start on Friday when authorities in Takeo province blocked a road and threatened to arrest marchers.
Eighty activists, including 14 monks, embarked on a planned five-day walk to Phnom Penh from Kiri Vong district in the morning, but were blocked by barricades and about 100 local police and military police officers, according to activists and officials.
Srey Ben, a Takeo provincial councilor, said the group had failed to receive permission for the march.
“They were blocked by the authorities because they did not ask permission from the Ministry of Cults and Religion as the march is led by monks,” he said.
Six contingents began their trek along the country’s national highways Friday in a series of marches expected to include some 600 human rights activists, who plan to convene in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on December 10.
Three of the groups—marching along national roads 2, 6 and 7—were not allowed to gather at the pagodas where they planned to sleep Thursday night before starting out, according to Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho.
In Ratanakkiri province’s Kon Mom district, marchers were sent away when they arrived at Kiri Sorphoan pagoda, according to monk Kim Sao Samkhan.
“When we arrived, police told us to find another place,” he said.
On Friday morning, representatives of the group “Friends of December 10,” which is organizing the marches, met with Phnom Penh municipal officials to discuss the arrival of activists in the city.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the activists would not be allowed to march to the National Assembly.
“We worry the march will make a traffic jam in the city,” he said. “If they march for rights, why not think about other people’s rights?”
Mr. Dimanche said City Hall had proposed that the groups instead meet in Freedom Park, and would pass along the idea to the Interior Ministry for approval.