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Capital Authorities Use Force to Clear Protest Outside Chinese Embassy

A woman is carried by police officers after security guards broke up a small protest near the Chinese embassy opposing alleged plans to boost Beijing's military presence in the country, in Phnom Penh, Cambodia October 23, 2020. (REUTERS/Heng Mengheang)

Mixed security forces violently broke up a protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh to mark the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement, with two former Cambodia National Rescue Party officials being detained on Thursday to prevent their attendance.

The protest was called by senior leadership of the dissolved Cambodia National Rescue Party to mark the 29th anniversary of the Peace Paris Agreement and to protest against China’s potential military presence in Cambodia.

About 30 protestors gathered outside the Chinese Embassy in the capital’s Chamkarmon district, where they were met by dozens of district security guards, uniformed police, and plainclothes security personnel.

“People who protest here with the banners, please leave this area in five minutes,” said an official on a loudspeaker. “If you don’t, we will use administrative measures.”

Protestors continued their protest and called for China to respect the peace agreement and refrain from having a military presence on Cambodian soil. Security personnel then started to drag and carry protestors away from outside the embassy, with these images and videos broadcast on social media platforms.

Three women were dragged onto the back of a flatbed truck used by district guards and another woman was carried away.

The Chinese Embassy did not respond to requests for comment.

Former CNRP members were also marking the peace agreement anniversary in different cities across the world, with Prime Minister Hun Sen warning Cambodians not to protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh.

The protestors were reacting to an increasing number of reports suggesting that Cambodia had allegedly signed a secret deal with China to allow a military presence at two likely locations: Ream Naval Base in Preah Sihanouk province and the Dara Sakor Resort in Koh Kong province.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director at rights group Licadho, said the government’s actions had effectively forbidden people from assembling and expressing their views.

“It has become involved with politics now. It affects the freedom of assembly and peaceful protests,” he said.

On Thursday, two former CNRP members were detained and prevented from participating in the protest outside the Chinese Embassy. Vann Sophat was detained by Tbong Khmum police officials at noon, without a warrant, and questioned till 5 p.m., he said. He was released only after signing an agreement promising to not partake in the protest.

“I just wanted to protest, and not start a coup to topple anyone,” he said. “We want people to understand about the Paris Peace Agreement on October 23.”

Vann Sophat was one of seven former opposition officials who was convicted by Tbong Khmum court last month and given a five-year suspended sentence. They were charged with “plotting” to overthrow the government and the case was linked to Sam Rainsy’s unsuccessful return to Cambodia in November 2019.

His former CNRP colleague, Sou Yean, was also detained by Tbong Khmum police on Thursday and remains in detention, according to his family.

Hong Kim Hoeun, Memot district police chief, said he was on a two-day mission to Preah Sihanouk province and refused to comment on the detention.

Pen Rath, Tbong Khmum provincial police head, and court spokespersons could not be reached for comment on Friday.