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NGOs Deliver Petitions for Release of 23 Detainees

Cambodian Americans are protesting at the White House against violence in Cambodia and demanding the release of 23 union leaders and workers, and reelection. (Men Kimseng VOA, VOA Khmer)
Nearly 200 representatives from local rights and development organizations on Thursday submitted a petition to foreign embassies in Phnom Penh, calling for help in freeing 23 detained protesters from a remote facility near the Vietnam border.

All 23 were arrested in a violent crackdown on demonstrations earlier this month. Thursday’s march was not stopped by authorities, who earlier this week briefly detained 11 protest leaders, in ongoing demonstrations that have posed a challenge to the authority of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Thida Khus, director of the Silaka NGO, told reporters outside the South Korean Embassy that violence against protesting workers by Cambodia’s security forces was an abuse of the law. She said the NGOs hoped to see pressure put on the Cambodian government to release the detainees.

Among the embassies where the petition was delivered were those of Australia, Brunei, and Japan. A Swedish Embassy official said the petition would be forwarded to the ambassador.

The crackdowns on protesters and calls for their release come as Cambodia’s political crisis is nearly its six-month mark. And there are few signs it will be resolved soon.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has refused to join the new government, following elections in July its leaders say were marred by fraud. The party and its supporters have called for a credible investigation into election irregularities; a recall election; the reform of the National Election Committee; and the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Negotiations have been derailed on a number of occasions, and opposition leaders say they are determined to keep pressure on the government, in the form of public demonstrations and protests.

Meanwhile, Hun Sen has said he is willing to let the deadlock continue, and police say the fate of the 23 detainees is now a matter for the courts.