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March 27, 2014

Cambodian PM Warns Against Rally Violence

by Kong Sothanarith, Heng Reaksmey

Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen has warned the opposition it could face legal repercussions if a planned rally Sunday leads to violence.

The opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party hopes to gather about 5,000 supporters in the capital’s Freedom Park to inform them of the status of political negotiations with the ruling Cambodian People’s Party.

Prime Minister Hun Sen said Thursday the opposition will suffer the consequences if its rally gets out of hand.

“Let them undertake any expression, but do not ignite a war," he said. "The law has limits, and if it is exceeded, there will be no more patience and legal action will be taken.”

City authorities on Thursday said they would not permit the gathering, but opposition leaders say they are going ahead as planned, setting the stage for potential conflict.

Mu Sochua, a Cambodia National Rescue Party leader, told VOA Khmer that the prime minister's warning was “a threat to the rights of expression of citizens.”

“Hun Sen always resorts to a language that we see as a threat to the rights of expression of citizens," she said. "It is not necessary for Hun Sen to teach our people. He should reserve that language for the army, for controlling other bad people. If not, Hun Sen can come to the Freedom Park to meet the people.”

Opposition officials met with city leaders on Wednesday to discuss the proposed rally.

City spokesman Long Dimanche told reporters after the meeting the city will allow a Buddhist ceremony to mark the anniversary of a 1997 grenade attack on an opposition rally; but, he said, a rally at Freedom Park would not be permitted.

“As for the Freedom Park, we will have to wait until the court investigation is concluded, then the Phnom Penh municipality will allow them to meet again,” he said.

Cambodia National Rescue Party president Sam Rainsy could not be reached for comment Thursday. On Wednesday, he told reporters the party would go forward with a rally, permission or not.

It is the first mass rally the opposition has planned since a violent crackdown on striking garment workers in January killed at least four people and injured dozens more.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer service.