PHNOM PENH —
After nearly five hours of talks on Monday, Cambodia’s ruling party and the opposition have agreed to a series of steps designed to defuse the country’s tense post-election atmosphere. The lengthy meeting came after a night of violence in Phnom Penh during which one man was shot dead and several other people were injured.
The violence in Phnom Penh late Sunday night has shocked many Cambodians, not least King Norodom Sihamoni.
On Monday the king, who is a constitutional monarch, publicized a letter calling on both sides to ensure that the country remained at peace.
Speaking at Parliament on Monday, opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said the king’s request had formed the first of three items agreed to between the ruling Cambodian People's Party, or CPP, and the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, or CNRP.
“The first point is to avoid the violence - we have to respect the royal letter of the king dated today, that asked both the CNRP and the CPP to avoid as much as possible the violence. Our demonstration must be peaceful and also the government must be very patient not to use force or weapons against the demonstrators,” Yim said.
At the center of the problems surrounding the July 28 election is the National Election Committee, or NEC, the body that oversees elections. It is widely seen as having favored the ruling party in this and previous elections.
Among the NEC’s responsibilities is the voter list, which independent studies this year showed was deeply flawed with more than a million ghost voters and duplicate names. In addition, around one million genuine voters were disenfranchised.
The opposition contends that those flaws were deliberate and cost it the election.
Yim Sovann said the two sides - which included Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy -also agreed Monday to set up a committee that would look at an array of election-related reforms.
“The second is we agree to form a committee for the electoral reform - you know we need to reform the NEC, we need to amendment some laws related to the election, and also we have to have new voter list, and so on and so on,” Yim said.
Yim Sovann said the parties had also agreed to keep talking - with another meeting planned prior to the opening of Parliament on September 23. The opposition has threatened numerous times to boycott the opening of parliament unless it gets an independent investigation into the election.
Yim Sovann described the talks as “fruitful” and told VOA that the CNRP still insists on an independent investigation into alleged widespread voting fraud.
After the talks, opposition leader Sam Rainsy and his deputy Kem Sokha headed to Freedom Park in central Phnom Penh, where tens of thousands of their supporters have been holding a three-day rally to protest the election result.
That rally began Sunday, and although it was largely peaceful during the day, the early evening saw a minor clash at a sealed-off area near the Royal Palace between stone-throwing protesters and riot police who replied with tear gas.
The protesters eventually dispersed after Sam Rainsy spoke Sunday and told them to stop fighting. But a far more serious bout of violence erupted later that same night in another part of town, where police shot and killed a man on the bridge of a major thoroughfare that the authorities had blocked.
There were conflicting reports of how the violence began: some media reports indicated that ordinary commuters, fed up with being stuck at the bridge for hours, moved the barricades, and that this sparked clashes. Others said that commuters were caught between stone-throwing protesters and military police.
On Monday a coalition of rights groups accused the military police of using live ammunition at the bridge. The military police have denied that.
However the rights groups said the man who died - a 29-year-old father of four, reportedly a commuter trying to get home - was killed by a bullet, and said another eight people were hospitalized with bullet wounds. The rights groups said many more young men, some in their teens, were beaten up by police.
Opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said the opposition would continue its planned protest in Freedom Park until sunset on Tuesday.