Was There An Anti-Thai 'Day of Anger' in Cambodia?

Note: This post was originally published on July 18, 2010 (in a slightly shorter form) in a series of guest blogger post for Bangkok Pundit at AsianCorrespondent. Until recently, Cambodians remembered the gruesome atrocities of the Khmer Rouges on the so-called "Day of Anger" every year on May 20. A few weeks ago there was some buzz over a different "Day of Anger" planned in Cambodia:

Cambodian NGOs plan to organize a meeting to commemorate and to express the anger against the 2nd anniversary of the Thai invasion of Cambodia along the border near Preah Vihear temple which took place on 15 July 2008. One high-ranking government official welcomed the plan to hold the “Anger Day” against Thai invasion on Cambodia on 15 July. However, this government official also warned the NGOs not to profit from this occasion to serve the interest of Cambodia’s opposition party. Rong Chhun, representative of the Cambodia Watchdog Council (CWC) and President of the Cambodia Independent Teachers’ Association (CITA), announced that 15 July is the date for the Anger Day against the Thai invasion of Cambodia and that it will be held in front of the public park located in front of the old building of the National Assembly which now houses the Supreme Court. Rong Chhun said that at the beginning of July 2010, he will send a letter to the Phnom Penh city authority to inform about them on the commemoration of this date, although, this is not to ask for an authorization from the city.

"Plan to hold an “Anger Day” against Thai invasion", by Everyday.com.kh, translated by KI-Media, June 29, 2010

This "Day of Anger" was supposed to mark the two-year anniversary of an incident when several dozens of Thai soldiers have reportedly crossed the border after three Thais were arrested, who illegally crossed the border in order to plant a Thai flag on the disputed Preah Vihear temple grounds.

The reactions from Thai officials were either unexcited, uninterested or unworried. Nevertheless there was some speculation why this event was to take place:

The event this time is planned by the Teacher's Association of Cambodia, which had carried out activities against the government of Hun Sen and also had its leaders imprisoned. This is a strange occurrence since the government has a strict ruling over various public gatherings. But this time the government has not shown any signs of interference.

(การจัดงานครั้งนี้จัดขึ้นโดยสมาคมครูแห่งชาติ ซึ่งเป็นกลุ่มที่มีบทบาทต่อต้านรัฐบาลฮุนเซน และแกนนำกลุ่มก็เคยถูกฮุนเซนจับขังคุกมาแล้ว ซึ่งเป็นเรื่องน่าแปลกที่ปกติรัฐบาลจะควบคุมเข้มงวดในการจัดงานชุมนุมต่างๆ แต่ครั้งนี้รัฐบาลไม่ได้มีการส่งสัญญาณห้ามปรามแต่อย่างใด)

Mr Surapong Jayanama, former [Thai] ambassador, says that there are two noteworthy aspects: "This event normally takes place in every May, but this time it's in July and in the past it is organized by Hun Sen's Cambodian People's Party. This time it is an organization that is not related to the government and even if Hun Sen does not endorse them, but also does not stop them. [...] Since this is being held in July it also coincides with the meeting of the World Heritage Committee on July 25 in Brazil."

(นายสุรพงษ์ ชัยนาม อดีตเอกอัครราชทูต กล่าวว่า มีข้อสังเกตุ 2 ประการ คือ ทุกปีจัดในเดือนพ.ค. แต่ทำไมครั้งนี้จัดในเดือน ก.ค. และในอดีตจะจัดโดยพรรคประชาชนกัมพูชาของฮุนเซน แต่ครั้งนี้เปลี่ยนเป็นกลุ่มที่ไม่เกี่ยวกับรัฐบาล ถึงแม้ฮุนเซนจะบอกว่าไม่สนับสนุนแต่ก็ไม่ขัดขวาง [...] โดยการที่จัดงานในเดือนก.ค.นี้ เนื่องจากใกล้กับการประชุมคณะกรรมการมรดกโลกที่ประเทศบราซิลในวันที่ 25 ก.ค.นี้)

"Cambodia wants the seven [committee] countries of the UNESCO to see that not only Hun Sen is rallying for the world heritage status but also the people, because [they say] the Thais are exploiting [the Preah Vihear issue]. Apart from that it should show that the government of Hun Sen is democratic, open and is willing to let this event take place even if it is agains the will of the government. About the relations with Thailand, it is not a top priority. But the top priority is to get the world heirtage status for Preah Vihear. [...]

(ทางกัมพูชาต้องการให้ประชาคมระหว่างประเทศ 7 ประเทศจากยูเนสโกได้เห็นว่า ไม่ใช่เพียงนายฮุนเซนที่เรียกร้องเรื่องมรดกโลก ชาวกัมพูชาก็ออกมาเคลื่อนไหวเรียกร้องเพราะรู้สึกว่าถูกไทยเอาเปรียบ [เรื่องเขาพระวิหารเป็นมรดกโลก] นอกจากนี้ก็แสดงให้เห็นว่ารัฐบาลนายฮุนเซนมีความเป็นประชาธิปไตย ใจกว้าง ยินยอมให้จัดงานได้แม้จะเป็นฝ่ายตรงข้ามรัฐบาลก็ตาม ส่วนจะกระทบความสัมพันธ์กับไทย นายสุรพงษ์กล่าวว่าขณะนี้วาระเร่งด่วนของรัฐบาลฮุนเซนคือต้องการขึ้นทะเบียนมรดกโลกเขาพระวิหาร ส่วนเรื่องความสัมพันธ์กับไทยถือเป็นเรื่องสำคัญรองลงไป [...])

"เขมร จัด "วันโกรธแค้น" หวังสร้างภาพฟ้องประชาคมโลก", Manager.co.th, July 15, 2010

So, was there an anti-Thai "Day of Anger" in Cambodia? Well, sort of...

AROUND 150 armed security forces were deployed by Phnom Penh Municipal authorities yesterday to prevent a ceremony “expressing hate and demanding that Thai soldiers withdraw” from Preah Vihear temple. [...]

The ceremony, organised by the Cambodian Watchdog Council, was to take place outside the old National Assembly building near Wat Botum and mark the anniversary of the “Thai invasion” by demanding the withdrawal of Thai troops still stationed near the temple.

However, 150 soldiers and police – outnumbering the protesters – forced the gathering to disburse and relocate.

CWC President Rong Chhun expressed disappointment that authorities prevented the ceremony from going ahead as planned.

“The supporters and I wanted to hold a ceremony to remember the anniversary of the Thai invasion, but we are disappointed that local authorities prevented the gathering,” he said. “The deployment of armed forces is threatening and frightening to the patriotism of Cambodia’s children.”

He said the ceremony was moved to his office in Chamkarmon district, but remained under heavy police guard.

"Police quash anti-Thai gathering", by Kim Yuthana and Thet Sambath, The Phnom Penh Post, July 16, 2010

KI-Media has video of the protest, that shows the quite small turnout and also mentions a similar protest in 2009 that was violently dispersed by police.

P.S.: Thanks to Cambodia-based bloggers Andy Brouwer and Tharum Bun for providing help on this story.