Protesters Move Largely Unhindered by Police Checkpoints

Despite the return of police checkpoints around Phnom Penh on Wednesday morning ahead of the opposition CNRP’s latest protest against July’s still-disputed national election, most demonstrators coming in from the provinces were let through.

Typifying what turned out to be a lighter security touch compared to other mass protests since the July 28 vote, police at checkpoints along some of the major roads leading into Phnom Penh were at ease as trucks passed by laden with CNRP supporters on their way into the city.

Still, not all Phnom Penh-bound trucks were so lucky.

Un Sokha was barreling through Takeo province on the back of an open-topped truck with a few dozen fellow CNRP supporters when po­lice stationed along National Road 2 stopped them at about 7 a.m.

“Police said they were checking driver’s licenses and keeping security and then they ordered the truck driver to turn back,” he said afterward by phone.

Like most of the protest-bound passengers, he got off and finished the trip on the back of a moped.

“Some of the protesters hired motorcycle taxis and some got a ride with other protesters heading to Phnom Penh,” he said.

Leang Phalin, a vendor along the same road, said he had seen police force trucks carrying garment workers to nearby factories to turn around.

“It’s a pity the workers were prevented from going to work,” he said later in the morning. “They were not going to the protest. They pass by on this road every day.”

Srey Ronthor, one of the local traffic police manning the checkpoint—two metal barricades and a half-dozen plastic chairs on the side of the dusty road—denied turning any truck around.

“No vehicles were told to turn back,” he said. “We just briefly stopped drivers to check their licenses, then we let them go on their way.”

By late morning, at another checkpoint down the road, four district police officers were keeping a lazy eye on traffic from around a wobbly table inside a tiny roadside coffee shop. They hardly turned their heads as a pair of trucks packed with protesters sailed past.

Rights group Licadho said its monitors also reported checkpoints along national roads 1, 3, 4, 5 and 21.

“Reports indicate that all supporters have been allowed to continue on their way into the city,” Licadho said in an online update of the day’s events on its website.

According to Licadho monitors, police attempted to search some 70 trucks along National Road 4 in Kandal province, Ang Snuol district, allegedly for drugs, but relented after passengers threatened to block the road in protest. Police reportedly stopped another 30 trucks headed to the protest along National Road 21 through Kandal’s Sa’ang district, but also relented after negotiations with the passengers.

Kheng Tito, spokesman for the national military police, one of the most active units in the post-election security buildup in and around Phnom Penh, said he had no knowledge of any trucks being turned around.

But he said the checkpoints would stay in place until Friday, when the opposition protests are scheduled to wrap up.

“We will continue to check vehicles for any tools that can be used as weapons,” he said.

Though most trucks bringing protesters into Phnom Penh appeared to make it through the many checkpoints, Licadho director Naly Pilorge said their presence was still “excessive.”

“Checkpoints on various main roads and highways were not necessary, but [we were] relieved police allowed hundreds of trucks full of thousands of people to come to Phnom Penh as people should have the right to move anywhere or join any peaceful event in their country,” she said.

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