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Organizers: Pro-Democracy Forum Barred by Authorities

A pro-democracy forum was thwarted by police and military in Stung Treng province Friday, organizers said, while police said they were breaking up an unlawful gathering.

The Voice of Democracy, an a radio program of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, planned to hold a forum Friday, but program director Pa Nguon Teang said dozens of police and military were deployed outside the gates of the venue that morning, barring villagers from "listening and expressing opinions," in "a violation of the freedom of expression."

Police and soldiers "came to tell us last night not to [hold the forum], and they ordered the structure to be dismantled this morning," Pa Nguon Teang said. "But we did not dismantle it.…This morning, the only goal was not to let us have the forum."

Stung Treng Police Chief Chhuk Komol said police were dispatched to stop an illegal assembly.

"The story is not true. The forum should have had permission from the provincial authorities," he said. Instead, "they do whatever they want, not abiding by law, and they finish their work according to what they want to do."

The head of the new Human Rights Party, an opposition upstart for next year's national elections, is Kem Sokha, the former director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights. Chan Saveth, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the authorities had violated the group's right to assemble.

He compared the authorities to a snail in a Cambodian fable. In it, a rabbit and snail agree to race around a pond. But the snail organizes a relay with other strategically placed snails, so that whenever the racing rabbit calls out, the snail in front of him answers. The rabbit is thus tricked into believing he has lost the race.