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Sam Rainsy Supporters Protest at Embassy in US

Supporters of opposition leader Sam Rainsy demonstrated in front of the Cambodian Embassy in Washington Saturday, upset over recent criminal charges against him and the suspension of his parliamentary immunity.

Nearly 100 protesters met around 10:30 am, carrying placards in support of Sam Rainsy, who faces charges for allegedly inciting villagers in Svay Rieng province to pull border markers from the ground.

Sam Rainsy has said the villagers were upset at perceived Vietnamese encroachment onto their rice fields.

One banner read, “No Sam Rainsy Immunity, No Democracy.” Others showed figures in Vietnamese-style hats embracing and biting Cambodia.

“This non-violent demonstration shows that Cambodians are against the stripping of Sam Rainsy’s immunity, pressure on democracy in Cambodia and the loss of Cambodian territory,” said Chhan Touch, an organizer of the protest.

Demonstrators were not met by embassy officials.

“We are very upset that we have an embassy in this country,” said a protester named Men Vannak. “It is supposed to respond to the people’s call for help. But now no one came out to take our petition. We are very upset.”

Embassy officials could not be immediately reached for comment. At least one figure appeared to be filming the demonstration from an embassy window.

Chhan Touch said he would continue to communicate with the embassy and would try to send the petition by e-mail.

Sam Rainsy addressed the protesters, from France, via a telephone amplified by a megaphone.

“Our brothers and sisters in Washington, DC, are protesting to show a spirit of nationalism and support for democracy,” he said. “I am happy and excited…. I am not scared… A million thanks, and goodbye for now.”

Demonstrators replied with cries of “Long live Sam Rainsy!”

Reached in Cambodia, Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said Sam Rainsy’s policies aimed at inciting unrest and creating a conflict between Cambodia and Vietnam.

He praised a recent request by Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Son Chhay requesting government officials to appear before the National Assembly to be questioned over border issues.

Cambodia’s relationship with Vietnam is politically difficult. The Vietnamese ousted the Khmer Rouge, in 1979, but then undertook a decade-long occupation that rankles many Cambodians today.

Sam Rainsy supporters were angered by the removal of his immunity by the National Assembly on Nov. 16, less than two weeks after Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung called on the Cambodian government to take “due measures” in dealing with the opposition leader’s alleged role in the border marker event.

Sam Rainsy has called the suspension proof of Cambodia’s inferior position to Vietnam.

Nguon Nhil, vice president of the National Assembly, denied the allegation.

“The Cambodian government was not frightened by the Vietnamese government,” he said by phone from Cambodia. “The border demarcation was decided on by a committee from both countries. If any lawmaker or committee has questions about the border, they have the right to invite the concerned government officials for questioning by the National Assembly or by committee.”