As many as 250 protesters rallied outside a Sam Rainsy Party democracy workshop in the former Khmer Rouge stronghold of Pailin Sunday, descending on the classroom with loudspeakers and demanding representatives come outside and address their grievances, party officials and local police said.
The protesters claimed they were owed money and cows in exchange for voting for the Sam Rainsy Party in last year’s national elections, police and party officials said.
But Sam Rainsy Party officials contend local officials paid the protesters to cause problems and level false accusations—possibly because of the party’s advocacy of an international tribunal to try former Khmer Rouge leaders.
“Everybody knows that Sam Rainsy has been adamant in his support for an international tribunal,” party spokesman Phi Thach said. “Everybody knows that former Khmer Rouge leaders in Pailin are not satisfied with that kind of position.”
Local authorities in Pailin denied instigating the rally, as did CPP officials in Phnom Penh.
“We were not involved with this case, but our policemen were trying hard to stop the protesters,” said Chea Chandin, Pailin municipal police chief.
One independent researcher present at the rally, however, said the protesters were trucked in—most with little idea what the rally was about, and that some admitted to being paid.
“Some of the most vocal people identified themselves as CPP,” said the researcher, who asked not to be identified. “One said he voted for the Sam Rainsy Party, but he said he basically had been ordered to attend the protest by his commander.”
The former rebel stronghold of Pailin defected to the government in late 1996 under the leadership of one of Pol Pot’s top lieutenants, Ieng Sary. Researchers believe Pailin is now home to as many as 10 of the 12 former Khmer Rouge leaders most likely to be called before any tribunal for the crimes committed during the 1975-79 Democratic Kampuchea.
The area voted for Sam Rainsy Party during last year’s elections. Since that time, however, Sam Rainsy has been one of the nation’s leading advocates for an international tribunal.
On a visit to Pailin earlier this year, numerous villagers attacked the Sam Rainsy Party, complaining about his position on the tribunal.
The protests Sunday came outside a workshop, organized in advance of the upcoming commune elections, on the role of political parties, leadership and basic concepts in electing a representative.
About 170 people attended the workshop, including Sam Rainsy Party Secretary General Eng Chhay Eang and Battambang parliamentarian Lon Phon.
On Sunday, crowds of protesters assembled outside the classroom with signs and loudspeakers shortly after the workshop began.
“Afterward, we invited some of the protesters to come inside our meeting,” Phi Thach said. “Some attended the lunch and revealed they had received 100 baht (about $2.50).”
CPP officials also strongly denied Monday the party was involved in orchestrating the protest.
“I haven’t received any information from Pailin,” said Khieu Sopheak, a spokesman for the Ministry of Interior. “If there is a protest, I think it is a protest from the people. I’m sure there will be no encouragement from the government or local authorities. There is no interest for the government to make a protest.”