Anti-eviction protesters set up camp in front of the U.S. Embassy in Phnom Penh for a second day yesterday, but ended their protest in the early evening when a petition to U.S. President Barack Obama was taken into the diplomatic mission by an embassy guard.
“The U.S. Embassy security guard came out and received our petition to be delivered to the ambassador,” said Tep Vanny, a resident of the Boeng Kak area, where mass evictions have taken place in recent years.
“We left from the U.S. Embassy after submitting the petition. It does not mean that we are afraid or received threats by the authorities,” Ms. Vanny said, explaining that the petition calls on Mr. Obama to address land grabbing in Cambodia, and to pressure the government to release two jailed anti-eviction activists.
Ms. Vanny said that she and about 50 other protesters who had camped out in front of the embassy left by 6 p.m. after submitting the petition, which also requests U.S. Ambassador William Todd to visit the Boeng Kak and Borei Keila sites.
U.S. Embassy officials, however, would not confirm receiving the petition.
Sean McIntosh, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, said: “At this time, we cannot confirm,” receiving the petition.
When asked if any embassy representatives, including Ambassador Todd, had met with the protesters, Mr. McIntosh said: “In the interest of personnel security, we do not meet with visitors who appear at the embassy unannounced.”
The protesters first set up their camp outside the embassy on Wednesday, but abandoned what was to be an overnight vigil when about a hundred riot police were deployed to move them on Wednesday evening.
Sitting under two makeshift tents yesterday, the protesters held hand-written signs imploring the U.S. government for help in their land disputes. “Please Barack Obama, intervene in the government and find a solution,” read one placard.
Mr. Obama is scheduled to visit Cambodia for the East Asia and Asean summits, which run concurrently from November 18 to 20.
“We want President Obama to address the country’s ongoing land issues, and we want him to address human rights, particularly in the cases of Yorm Bopha and Toem Sakmony,” Ms. Vanny said.
The two activists, Ms. Bopha and Ms. Sakmony, were charged and jailed in unrelated cases within days of each other in September. Human rights groups say the arrests were an attempt to silence the two women, while the government claims both are a threat to society.
Ms. Bopha is charged with intentional violence for her alleged role in a beating of two motorcycle-taxi drivers, and Ms. Sakmony is charged with making a false declaration.
Wednesday’s embassy vigil began after the Appeal Court rejected bail requests for Ms. Bopha and Ms. Sakmony.
Police said yesterday that the deployment of riot police and the removal of the protesters on Wednesday evening was necessary to protect the U.S. Embassy.
“In the daytime, it is their right to protest, but at night, we do not allow anarchy protests that affect security of the embassy,” Phnom Penh municipal police chief Chuon Sovann said.