A riot broke out yesterday in Cambodia’s Phnom Penh’s Stung Meanchey commune, one of Phnom Penh’s poorest districts. Currently most news stations have not report on the cause of the riot, but have still managed to hint at state oppression. The ABC News reported hinted it could be in relation to police beating up a monk.
However, the Phnom Penh Post reported that “voters left off the list contested the results of the election, claiming officials had allowed Vietnamese to illegally vote.” When police moved into break up the protesters, the crowd started throwing rocks and overturned two military police cars before setting them on fire. Cambodian based reporter Erika Pineros, reports that crowds later attacked a man they thought was Vietnamese.
The Phnom Penh Post goes on to say that the riots resembled a similar incident earlier that day in nearby Kbal Koh commune were 500 people blocked alleged illegal Vietnamese voters from casting ballots.
On the other hand in Prey Veng’s Kanh Chriech district at least 100 people “incited rallies against people they considered “outsiders” coming to vote in Kdoeung Reay commune.” Authorities at the Kdowung Reay commune said that the protests were “unwarranted” as voters had been registered in that area for a year.
“Villagers don’t understand the election law and reacted this way because they have never seen these people before. That’s why police and military police were down here,” said deputy commune chief Yem Yuhorn.
According to the Phnom Penh Post large numbers of military police had been deployed across Phnom Penh, which seem justified taking into account the outbreaks of violence.
“We deployed the armed forces to protect the security after the election,” said National Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito.
The outbreak of violence, accusations of vote rigging and heavy military presence on the surface seem to point to accusations made by the opposition and Western media alike. Both vote rigging and intimidation from the military, are two thing the opposition has frequently complained about since the elections began. Nonetheless, despite these accusations, opposition members, like in previous elections, have continued to appeal to Cambodian nationalism and stir racial tension frequently using the Vietnamese derogatory term “yuon.”
Speaking in Sihanoukville on Sunday the 14 of July, opposition leader Sam Rainsy reiterated the yuon threat to Cambodian society and said that Khmers must take back control of Angkor Wat from Vietnam.
“More and more yuon come to grab our land and catch our fish in Tonle Sap lake and in the sea. The yuon log our trees and take out jobs. The yuon take advantage of the Khmer because the current authorities protect the yuon,” he told the crowd of 5,000 Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) supporters at a opposition political rally.
Back in January 2003 after a popular Thai movie star Kop Supwakun Khunying supposedly claimed Angkor Wat belonged to Thailand Prime Minister Hun Sen lashed out at her saying that her life was “not even equal to a patch of grass around Angkor Wat,” and called for her TV show to be pulled from Cambodian TV.
Despite the actress denying that she had made the inflammatory comment, riots broke out in Phnom Penh. The riots resulted in the Thai Embassy and numerous Thai-owned business being burned down, causing $56 million of destruction.
Sam Rainsy later defended his continued use of the term yuon and his highly volatile comments, after being criticized on his continued use of the word, claiming that “We (Cambodians) need to take the Angkor Wat temple back from the Vietnamese,” which he delivered in a speech at Siem Reap’s Phsar Leu Thom.
“I didn’t say that,” he said.
“I said that Angkor Wat is managed by a Vietnamese company. Sok Kong [the owner of Sokimex, which controls ticketing at Angkor Wat] is a man of Vietnamese descent. He came to Cambodia from Vietnam, has close links—political and financial links—with Hun Sen’s government and everybody acknowledges this,” Mr. Rainsy said.
Being the recent riot in Stung Meanchey commune and protests in Kbal Koh commune and Kdoeung Reay commune, the violence seems more a result of what happens when nationalism and racism are manipulated in an election consistently reported as unfair. The violence which seems to be aimed purely at Vietnamese immigrant minorities, may be a result of genuine concern of an unfair election, although we cannot overlook the racial motivation something which has been manipulated by the opposition.