Sam Rainsy Press Talk Barred from Assembly

What began as an opposition call for human rights, solutions to poverty and electoral reforms Monday also turned into a partisan argument over the freedom of the Cambodian press.

Media representatives en route to the National Assembly for a Sam Rainsy Party news conference Monday morning were greeted instead by armed guards saying, “I’m sorry, there’s no room for you.”

Under orders from Kol Pheng, secretary general for the National Assembly, guards kept the media outside the country’s legislature, where they had been invited for a news conference by Sam Rainsy.

The media corps instead gathered outside the main gates of the government building.

Before beginning the news conference on the donors’ meeting and the commune election law from behind the locked metal bars, Sam Rainsy begged forgiveness of the assembled journalists.

“I apologize to the media for keeping you outside. National Assembly Prince Norodom Ranariddh has refused to let use rooms in the National Assembly for this press conference. I’m standing behind this gate as a prisoner,” he said, rubbing the top of his head and wrapping his hands around the rusted metal.

As Sam Rainsy spoke, an AK-47-toting guard yelled at a photographer who had scaled a statue on the National Assembly’s wall to take a photo.

The opposition party, which bears Sam Rainsy’s name, issued a letter later Monday that blamed Kol Pheng “for a show of bad faith,” and accused him of protecting Prince Ranariddh.

The Prince, the release stated, was unconstitutionally curbing the rights of both fellow parliamentarians and the media while behaving like a Chinese Comm­unist in preventing any real criticism of the government.

Kol Pheng said he refused Sam Rainsy’s request for space for the news conference because the opposition leader was acting in his own partisan interests that had little to do with government business.

“If I allow the parties to use the National Assembly for a political party’s interest, other parties will ask me to arrange for them, too, and the National Assembly will turn to anarchy,” Kol Pheng said.

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