A fourth stupa erected to honor 1997 grenade attack victims remained standing Thursday, after an all-night vigil by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, party members and victims’ relatives.
Dozens of people spent an alternately anxious and festive night across from the National Assembly, lounging on tarpaulins but bracing on several occasions as rumors of an imminent crackdown filtered in from passing motorcyle taxi drivers. Sam Rainsy slept on a mattress and cot brought in by his staff.
But a crackdown did not materialize. Police also were noticeably absent Thursday, as opposition party members celebrated the Buddha’s birthday (Pisak Bochea) and paid homage to government critics who have been murdered in recent years.
Three previous stupas have been destroyed during the seven-week standoff between Sam Rainsy and authorities, including two on Wednesday. And authorities continued to indicate Thursday that number four will be destroyed as well, if Sam Rainsy doesn’t move it soon.
A Phnom Penh municipality statement issued Thursday said that Sam Rainsy has been officially ordered to move the stupa to a banyan tree in front of nearby Wat Botum or to any other pagoda.
The municipal statement called the 1997 grenade attack a “most terrible and regretful event” but said the current stupa was constructed without permission, is disrupting public order and damaging the city’s aesthetics.
Sam Rainsy has said repeatedly that the stupa should remain where it is because it marks the site of the 1997 attack.
Deputy Municipal Military Police Chief Sim Hong said Thursday that he is waiting for orders by his superiors.
“Until now I have received no orders to crack down on the stupa. But if the orders arrive, I will do it immediately,” Sim Hong said.
Sam Rainsy has asked King Norodom Sihanouk to intervene, but the Royal Palace has yet to respond.
Meanwhile, in the US, longtime Sam Rainsy supporter Dana Rohrabacher asked fellow lawmakers to withhold US assistance to Cambodia.
In a letter to the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Congressman Rohrabacher characterized recent events as “political violence” in which “elected members of the Cambodian parliament were beaten by Hun Sen’s armed police.” He said it would be a “grave mistake” to provide any US funds to the “corrupt regime.”
Military police shoved and grabbed shirt collars of opposition parliamentarians in a Wednesday morning incident but did not beat them, according to reports given to human rights officials.