UPDATED: Authorities Break Up Small CNRP Protest Outside Chinese Embassy

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Authorities grab a camera during a small protest outside the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh on October 23, 2020. (Matt Surrusco/VOD)
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UPDATED 10:45 a.m. — About 50 uniformed and plainclothes authorities on Friday forcibly stopped about a dozen people protesting across the street from the Chinese Embassy in Phnom Penh, with one woman being carried down Mao Tse Tung Blvd by authorities and three other demonstrators pulled into the back of a police truck and driven away.

The protesters included land and CNRP activists calling for China to respect the 1991 Paris Peace Agreements, which were signed 29 years ago on Friday, and voicing opposition to any Chinese military presence in Cambodia.

Multiple men in plainclothes and some in uniform told a reporter they could not take photos but only stand by and watch.

The protest was scheduled to start at 8:30 a.m., but arriving protesters and stationed guards began to clash from around 8:15 a.m.

Through loudspeakers, district guards warned the protesters to leave the area. “Please disperse immediately. … Please move,” they said. “We do not allow you to rally around here.”

“Please, brothers and sisters who are holding up banners here, [you] must disperse in five minutes,” they said. “Please understand. … If you do not disperse, I will implement our administrative procedures.”

About 15 protesters shouted, “We need the Paris Peace Agreements of [October] 23rd,” and “We need democracy.”

Others told the gathered authorities: “We just want to hand a petition to the Chinese Embassy.”

The 1991 Paris Peace Agreements formally ended years of conflict in Cambodia, and laid out principles of multiparty democracy for the country’s governance. China, alongside Cambodia, the U.S. and 16 other countries, signed the agreement.

The CNRP has recently echoed concerns from the U.S. and defense analysts of alleged plans for a Chinese military presence in the coastal provinces of Koh Kong and Preak Sihanouk, claims Cambodia and China have repeatedly denied.

About a dozen district security guards marched demonstrators away from the embassy east along Mao Tse Tung Blvd., with a few wearing motorbike helmets with their visors down and some lifting a protester off the ground and carrying her away.

(Mech Dara/VOD)

A man in plainclothes who did not say whether he was a police officer told a VOD reporter he was not allowed to take photos of the scene. “No need to take a photo,” he said, declining to be interviewed. “You can take notes[s] a little bit.”

As about 14 uniformed guards and others in plainclothes lingered around about six demonstrators, including the woman who was carried away by security forces, who was sitting on the ground in tears on the sidewalk in front of a Chip Mong Group construction site, the man in plainclothes said authorities wanted to wait till the demonstrators were “calm.”

A VOD reporter interviewing a protester with a paper Cambodian flag in his pocket was motioned away by a guard, and later returned to speak with the man.

Sun Tharith, 58, said he was from Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district. “We’ve come here because we have seen our country drop to the bottom — democracy in Cambodia has reached the bottom.”

“It is a great suffering because people came here not to oppose or fight the government, but we came here to hand a petition to the Chinese Embassy to ask the Chinese to follow Cambodian law,” Tharith said.

Another protester, Mary, 39, who did not give her full name, said authorities had tried to grab their banner.

“We want real independence and national unity, but they do not allow us to express our views,” she said. “What have we done wrong? We are people so we want to have freedom. This is an injustice. Why can’t we have it?”

(Mech Dara/VOD)

Just before 9 a.m., most uniformed guards had left the sidewalk area where they had pushed protesters to, but dozens of authorities remained at an outdoor mall directly across the street from the Chinese Embassy, with others stationed on street corners nearby.

CNRP vice president Mu Sochua said in a message from the U.S. that “people’s rights and freedoms of speech and assembly [were] totally violated.”

Sochua earlier said there would be at least 300 CNRP supporters at the protest.

The protest continued later in the morning with a gathering outside the U.S. Embassy.

(Matt Surrusco/VOD)

Updated at 10:45 a.m. with interviews and descriptions of events.

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