Diplomats in Phnom Penh reacted with a mixture of dismay and mild approval Tuesday to the government’s decision to send in riot troops to disperse the opposition demonstrations.
“We were very disappointed,” one Western diplomat said. “We thought there had been an agreement, that [Prince Norodom] Ranariddh and [Sam] Rainsy had made a proposal to postpone the dispersal.”
But another Western embassy official said the incident had passed quickly and with few injuries, which was to be lauded.
“It was remarkable…two protesters were lightly injured. It was nothing,” the official said of the crackdown. “The police worked well to re-establish order.
“This is a step toward democracy,” he said. “It is a sign that the government is capable of dealing with this kind of event in the manner of a democratic country.”
A group of six ambassadors met with the UN secretary-general’s special representative, Lakhan Mehrotra, on Tuesday morning. Diplomats from the US, Japan, France, Australia, Canada and Singapore discussed the protests and ways to resolve the problem, Japanese Ambassador Masaki Saito told reporters.
As the meeting ended early Tuesday afternoon, soldiers were already pouring into the park across from the National Assembly, where protesters camped out for two weeks. Diplomats contacted Tuesday afternoon said they were unaware the order had been given to disperse the crowd.
One suggested breaking up the demonstration may not have been the best course of action for the government. The protesters would now have fanned out to occupy other parts of the city, with ripple effects, he said.
“If they are in one place then they don’t disturb people too much,” he said. “Now they are dispersed, they will disturb businesses, which will be very bad for the Cambodian economy.”
But one Asean diplomat would not comment on the decision to use troops to end the protests. “I think this is Cambodia’s internal affair,” he said. “The government has exercised restraint in the use of violence and there are no reports of serious injuries. That shows the government is attempting to resolve the situation.”
The French government issued a statement Tuesday condemning the grenade attack on Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh house on Monday and deploring the “victims of the last few days.”
“France calls on the main political leaders to exercise restraint and act responsibly during this fragile period to avoid more violence,” the statement said.
The Nation newspaper on Tuesday quoted Thai Foreign Ministry deputy spokesman Kitti Wasinondh as saying that Cambodia’s situation could affect its admission into Asean.
Asean was closely watching developments here, he said.
But the Asean diplomat in Phnom Penh said he did not believe the crackdown on the demonstrations would have any bearing on Cambodia’s attempts to join the regional grouping.
“It is the political development in this country which does matter,” he said, adding that he believed significant progress appeared to have been made in negotiations between the two sides.
(Additional reporting by Mhari Saito)