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Cambodian Democracy Supporters Rally at White House

Cambodian-Americans have gathered in front of the White House in Washington, DC, July 12, 2013, to demand reforms to the Cambodian National Election Committee ahead of July 28 parliamentary elections. (VOA Khmer)

More than 1,000 Cambodian-Americans and their supporters held a demonstration of Friday in front of the White House in Washington, calling on US President Barack Obama to help ensure free and fair elections in Cambodia later this month and to continue to push for human rights and democracy in Cambodia.

Protesters came from at least 10 states across the country and included not only Cambodian-American citizens, but Buddhist monks, Khmer minorities from Vietnam and Montagnards.

They held up signs critical of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his government and calling for reforms within the country.

The demonstrators demanded reform of the National Election Committee, which is widely criticized as biased toward the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and the reinstatement of 29 opposition lawmakers who were ejected from the National Assembly by the ruling party majority in June.

“Hun Sen must go,” read one sign. “We are hungry for democracy,” read another.

Venerable Oeun Socheat, a monk from a temple in Philadelphia, Penn., told VOA Khmer he hopes Obama will help Cambodia.

“Cambodia is facing serious suffering, and I want him to help Cambodia have freedom, free and fair and credible elections, and also to help lead Cambodia in the right direction,” he said.

Venerable Prak Pich, also from Philadelphia, called on Cambodians to go to the polls July 28 and make a change in the country.

“You all know which leader is bad and which leader is good,” he said.

Friday’s demonstration comes following a royal pardon for opposition leader Sam Rainsy, who will be allowed to return to Cambodia without imprisonment. It also comes as more than 9 million registered voters prepare for Election Day.

Organizer Prom Saunora said the demonstration was the largest gathering of its kind for supporters of democratic changes in Cambodia.

He said he had delivered a petition to the White House calling for more support of change in Cambodia. White House officials assured him “they will help us with their best,” he said.

But the protesters’ demands varied widely.

Vuong Hang, an ethnic Khmer minority from Vietnam who now lives in New Jersey, told VOA Khmer he had come to protest to demand “freedom and a change of leaders in Cambodia, for the peace of the people, to protect their territory and to ask Vietnamese people to leave Cambodia.”

About half of the protesters were Montagnards, an ethnic minority from Vietnam whose members say they faced persecution there.

Kok Ksor, founder of the Montagnard Foundation in South Carolina, said his group supports Sam Rainsy and the opposition, whom he hopes will push Vietnamese from Cambodia and remove many of the 99-year leases held by Vietnamese companies for Cambodian land concessions.

“Cambodia needs to change the leader, because the leader right now is hurting people, because they allow Vietnamese people to get in there,” he said. “If they keep doing this, Cambodians will be gone, and only the name will be Cambodia, but the people will become Vietnamese.”