Still No Agreement Over Opposition Marches

A meeting between representatives of the CNRP and Phnom Penh City Hall officials Monday failed to produce an agreement over the opposition party’s plans to march throughout the city during its three consecutive days of demonstrations starting Wednesday.

City Hall officials last week decreed that the CNRP would be allowed to host only 10,000 people at Freedom Park for its demonstration and said that security forces would prevent march­ers leaving the park.

But CNRP leaders have said they will not heed City Hall’s demands and plan to march to the offices of the U.N. and at least seven foreign embassies in the city to deliver a petition calling for foreign intervention in the country’s current political deadlock.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said that neither side had changed their position concerning the planned marches during yesterday’s meeting, but added that the municipality had decided to allow the opposition to send 20 representatives from Freedom Park to deliver their petition to the U.N. and embassies.

“They can select 20 representatives to hand the petition to whichever institutions they want to,” he said.

Mr. Dimanche added that City Hall would now pass the issues of whether or not demonstrators will also be allowed to march and how big the demonstration can be on to the Ministry of Interior.

“We tried to conciliate,” Mr. Dimanche said. “[But] there are too many people to the point that it is beyond City Hall’s capacity to make the decision” on marching.

About 20,000 CNRP supporters turned out to the opposition’s last mass demonstration held between September 15 and 17, and the opposition has notified City Hall that similar numbers could turn out to the marches this week.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng released a statement late last night saying that the CNRP could hold its demonstration over the three days but could not camp out at night in Freedom Park.

Mr. Kheng also said that the CNRP should contact the em­bassies “directly and in advance” to request permission to hand over their petitions, and that City Hall should then cooperate to allow demonstrators to make their way safely from Freedom Park.

“In the case of agreements from the embassies to accept the petitions, Phnom Penh City Hall shall cooperate to determine the number of people who take the petitions, the number of people who hand over petitions, the duration and the way to each destination in order to ensure security and public order in Phnom Penh and safety for the em­bassies,” Mr. Kheng said in the statement.

“The CNRP shall ensure responsibility in taking the people who bring the petitions to return to Freedom Park orderly. Please, Phnom Penh governor, manage to implement the contents of this letter effectively,” he added.

Asked to clarify how many people should be allowed to deliver the petitions, or whether Mr. Kheng’s statement was suggesting that City Hall should allow marches to go ahead, Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant General Khieu Sopheak said both were now the decision of the city’s governor.

“You can ask City Hall,” Lt. Gen. Sopheak said. “They will invite the CNRP to talk about that tomorrow.”

CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said that the opposition was hopeful that authorities would accede to more than 20 people leaving Free­dom Park to deliver the petitions tomorrow. But, Mr. Sovann added, the party would put City Hall’s proposal to the demonstrators who turn out at Freedom Park.

“I will ask the demonstrators if they accept this. At the demonstration, I will ask them all,” he said. “If they agree, we will send them. If they do not agree, we won’t.”

CNRP vice president Kem Sokha said Sunday that the opposition would go ahead with its marches no matter what authorities said in the lead-up to the event, insisting that permission was not required to exercise the constitutionally enshrined right for people to assemble peacefully.

City Hall, however, on Monday released a statement repudiating Mr. Sokha’s comments, saying that authorities can legally reject such requests if they consider public security or order to be threatened and can use any measure within its capability to ensure stability is maintained.

“The government has the right to use any capability in preventing activities that are banned by the law,” City Hall said in the statement.

The CNRP’s demonstration is scheduled to begin at 8 a.m. tomorrow, with the first march scheduled to leave for the U.N. Office of the High Commissioner for Hu­man Rights—which is situated just south of Independence Monument—at 3 p.m., according to CNRP lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua.

Ms. Sochua said demonstrators should arrive at the U.N. offices about 4 p.m. and that they would not be deterred if met by resistance from government security forces.

“If it takes three days, it takes three days,” she said of efforts to deliver the petitions.

National military police spokesman Brigadier General Kheng Tito reiterated that military police were prepared to prevent any unauthorized marching from Freedom Park.

“When they hold the demonstration, we will implement the orders,” he said. “The most im­portant thing is that the demonstrators respect the law that allows them [to demonstrate].”

(Additional reporting by Kim Chan)

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