About 40 police on Monday wrestled with a small group of students trying to present a petition to Chinese Embassy officials demanding an apology for China’s backing of the genocidal Khmer Rouge.
Police pushed back the group of five leaders of the Democratic Front of Khmer Students and Intellectuals bearing a letter addressed to Chinese President Jiang Zemin, who is due to visit Cambodia next week.
“These students cannot gather in front of the Chinese Embassy compound,” police Second Lieutenant Van Kim Huy told Agence France-Presse. “We have orders from the top to keep them away and maintain security at the embassy.”
Moments after the students were dispersed, two truckloads of baton-wielding riot police appeared on the scene.
Sun Sokunmealea, secretary-general of the student group, said the petition called for an apology and compensation from China, which was the chief military and financial backer of the radical Maoist guerrillas throughout the 1970s and 1980s.
It also called on China to refrain from using its influence in Cambodia to block a trial of former Khmer Rouge leaders, who many hold responsible for the deaths of more than 1 million Cambodians.
The students welcome Chinese investment and aid, but, “we really don’t want China to have a continued influence on Cambodian politics,” Sun Sokunmealea said.
Cambodia and China are slated to sign at least six agreements during Jiang’s two-day visit, but the Khmer Rouge tribunal is not on the agenda, according to Cambodian and Chinese officials.
Members of DFKSI and the Student Movement for Democracy said they plan to hold demonstrations throughout the president’s visit; however, municipal authorities have not yet decided whether to grant the them a permit to protest, said Sok Leakhena, deputy chief of the municipal cabinet.
National Assembly President Prince Norodom Ranariddh said the students have a constitutional right to air their grievances.
However, the prince appealed to them not to disrupt the world leader’s visit, which has been hailed as a symbol of the stronger ties between Cambodia and its powerful neighbor.
“We should show dignity and [guard] the image of our nation,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara and Alex Devine)