Opposition leader Sam Rainsy and Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara met Tuesday at the US ambassador’s residence, their first face-to-face meeting since the beginning of the stupa showdown more than two months ago.
US Ambassador Kent Wiedemann brokered the 90-minute meeting following events Monday night when police used water cannons and batons to remove protesters and parliamentarians from the controversial site across the street from the National Assembly. A near riot developed and several people were injured Monday night in scuffles after the removal of the fourth stupa to commemorate victims of the 1997 grenade attack.
“They showed an interest in meeting,” Wiedemann said. “I simply offered a venue for the meeting to take place.” He added that he intervened to help keep the situation from descending further into violence.
“They agreed on ways to avoid confrontation and indicated they might open a path to greater communication,” Wiedemann said.
Afterwards, Chea Sophara downplayed the political aspects of the controversy.
“I tried to talk with him and find out what he wants to do [regarding the commemorative stupa],” said Chea Sophara of Sam Rainsy. “This is not a political issue. It is a municipality issue. I have a duty as governor to protect…the city.”
Chea Sophara contends the stupas were built illegally in a public area. Sam Rainsy has said that it is customary in democratic countries to erect a memorial at the site where a tragedy took place.
Sam Rainsy was less upbeat about Tuesday’s meeting, but said no further stupas will be constructed until the opinion of King Norodom Sihanouk on the matter is known. He reiterated comments made Monday that Chea Sophara’s orders to remove the latest stupa were disrespectful to the monarch.
“We all had agreed to wait for an opinion [on the stupa] by the King and he did not wait. I find this very rude and very disrespectful,” said Sam Rainsy. “As for me, I am consistent. I will not do anything until the King has issued an opinion.”
Several weeks have gone by since Sam Rainsy requested the King’s intervention. Sam Rainsy said earlier in the day that a complaint will be lodged with the National Assembly against police who beat party members during the police operation Monday. Cheam Channy suffered shoulder bruises in the incident.
Chhin Chanpor, municipal military police chief, denied claims Tuesday that his men beat the lawmakers.