‘Thugs’ Thwart CNRP’s Relief Effort on Border

Opposition leader Kem Sokha’s efforts to meet Thursday with Cambodian migrant workers in Poipet City fleeing a crackdown on illegal laborers in Thailand and to hand out cash were thwarted by local officials and unidentified men who hurled abuse and allegedly pelted his convoy with eggs.

Some 200,000 Cambodian migrants have poured across the border in the past two weeks amid fears of arrest by soldiers since the Thai Army overthrew the government in Bangkok last month, most of them coming through the Poipet border crossing in Banteay Meanchey province.

CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha greets Cambodian migrant workers newly returned from Thailand in Poipet City on Thursday in a photo posted to Mr. Sokha's Facebook page.
CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha greets Cambodian migrant workers newly returned from Thailand in Poipet City on Thursday in a photo posted to Mr. Sokha’s Facebook page.

With the help of NGOs and volunteers, the government has mounted a humanitarian effort at the checkpoint to deal with the sudden exodus and to help returnees make it back to their home provinces.

Mr. Sokha, vice president of the opposition CNRP, had traveled to Poipet hoping to meet and talk with the returnees and hand out cash donations of 30,000 riel, or about $7.50, to help with their journeys home.

A video posted to CNRP President Sam Rainsy’s Facebook page, however, shows security forces using motorcycles and barricades to block the road and Mr. Sokha’s convoy. It also shows Long Ry, a CNRP lawmaker-elect from Banteay Meanchey and the party’s security chief, asking Poipet City governor Ngor Mengchruon to let them into the areas where the returnees were gathering—to no avail.

“I want to get inside to see the facts with His Excellency, the leader [Mr. Sokha],” Mr. Ry says in the clip.

The governor denies his request and tells them to make their donations from the CNRP’s local party headquarters.

“On behalf of the local authorities I am very happy to see donations, but to avoid anything that can cause disorder, donations should be made at the [CNRP] office,” Mr. Mengchruon replies.

He then grants the convoy permission to quickly drive through the area, but not to linger or hand out any donations, and the video clip shows returnees packed in trucks eagerly grabbing at Mr. Sokha’s hand as he slowly rides past.

Men in civilian clothes—whom the Facebook post labels “CPP thugs”—are seen chasing after the convoy and yelling at Mr. Sokha to “go away.”

“The CNRP wanted to support our migrant workers with humanitarian aid as they come to Poipet, then we wanted to travel around,” said Mr. Ry, contacted by telephone afterward.

“But our delegation was disturbed with loudspeakers and horns from military trucks and yelling from a group of men in blue shirts.”

Soum Chankea, a monitor in the province for rights group Adhoc, said a car in the CNRP convoy—not Mr. Sokha’s—was also splattered with paint and eggs and met by a pair of tuk-tuks whose passengers rolled out banners proclaiming the local population’s undivided support for Prime Minister Hun Sen and its distaste for certain unspecified “bad men.”

Ker Samphoas, an adviser to the CNRP in the province, said the effort was surely coordinated.

“It did not happen by accident. It was well organized against our party delegation,” he said. “Our delegation wanted to hand out some extra money so they [the returnees] could pay for taxis to get home, because the trucks only take them to the provincial towns, but we couldn’t.”

Neither Mr. Mengchruon nor provincial governor Kousoum Saroeuth could be reached for comment. Poipet City police chief Um Sophal said he had no idea who the alleged “CPP thugs” were.

“We don’t know about those people, whether they were CPP who said bad things or chasing Kem Sokha’s convoy,” he said.

Mr. Rainsy and Mr. Sokha, who are in difficult talks with the CPP to end the CNRP’s boycott of the National Assembly in protest over last year’s disputed national elections, have had several of their provincial trips blocked by police and plainclothes groups in recent weeks.

In early June, a group of men set up an illegal roadblock that kept the pair from visiting parts of Oddar Meanchey province that had served as the final bastion of the Khmer Rouge, while local police did nothing.

A month earlier, military police prevented Mr. Rainsy from visiting a community in northeastern Ratanakkiri province that is locked in a long-running land dispute with an agribusiness firm, supposedly for the opposition leader’s own safety.

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