x Abu Dhabi, UAESunday 21 January 2018

Cambodia rivals seek calm after protest bloodshed

The two sides remain at odds over the opposition’s demand for the creation of an independent 'truth committee' to investigate the July polls.

PHNOM PENH // Cambodia’s political rivals agreed on Monday to seek a peaceful way out of the crisis gripping the kingdom following violent clashes that left one demonstrator dead and several wounded.

The prime minister, Hun Sen, who has ruled for 28 years, met the opposition leader, Sam Rainsy, for nearly five hours at parliament to discuss turmoil sparked by the strongman leader’s disputed election win in July.

They said they had agreed on three points: to heed the king’s call for an end to the violence, to set up a mechanism to bring about election reform in the future and to continue negotiations.

The two sides, however, remained at odds over the opposition’s demand for the creation of an independent “truth committee” to investigate the July polls, said Yim Sovann, a spokesman for Mr Rainsy’s Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP).

The opposition said it would continue its three-day mass protest, which is due to run until tomorrow.

But there was still enough time for the two parties to seek a solution before the opening of the parliament scheduled for next Monday, which the opposition has threatened to boycott, Mr Yim said.

The talks followed violent clashes in the capital, Phnom Penh, yesterday on the fringes of a mass demonstration that drew an estimated 20,000 opposition supporters demanding an independent inquiry into the vote.

Security forces fired smoke grenades, tear gas and water cannon at rock-throwing protesters.

The opposition blamed the authorities for the death of a protester who, according to witnesses, was shot in the head.

“The CNRP strongly condemns the cruel violence by police who shot and beat people ... causing a youth to die and many injuries and arrests by the authorities,” it said.

Kheng Tito, a military police spokesman, denied that security forces had fired live ammunition.

“The military police used only batons and shields, and police used tear gas. We did not use live rounds.”

An estimated 8,000 opposition protesters joined a second protest in a park in the capital on Monday to maintain pressure on Mr Hun.

“We voted for the CNRP, but our will has been stolen,” said Lev Yeng, 57.

“I am hopeful we will get our demand. I will not go back home until we get justice.”

Mr Hun, 61, has vowed to rule until he is 74.

* Agence France-Presse