Cambodian police stop protest recalling oppression

AP News
Posted: Nov 18, 2012 6:58 AM

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — Police in Cambodia broke up a protest Sunday that was meant to highlight the oppression of Cambodia's people by political figures, including allegedly by former U.S. Secretary of State Henry Kissinger and the late despot Pol Pot.

The protest sought to point out on the eve of a historic visit by President Barack Obama that U.S. actions were allegedly partly responsible for the rise of Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge and their genocidal rule.

Protest organizer Theary Seng called her action "Poetic Justice Dart Games," with pictures of Kissinger and others emblazoned on poster-sized dart boards set up on a busy riverside boulevard.

Although the protest was peaceful, police began removing the posters soon after they were set up, even as Theary Seng sought to negotiate with them.

When they took them away, she engaged in a running tug of war to protect her last poster, falling to the ground at one point before policemen gained the upper hand and took it as she yelled "Cowards, Cowards" at them.

Kissinger directed U.S. foreign policy during the Nixon Administration when it carried out large-scale secret bombing of Cambodia during the Vietnam War. Some historians blame the bombing for embittering Cambodians and ushering in radical communist Khmer Rouge rule that left 1.7 million people dead.

Theary Sang says Cambodia's current government is also an enemy of freedom. Theary Seng heads the Association of Khmer Rouge Victims in Cambodia, which was listed as a sponsor of the protest along with other activist groups.

"We see this unprecedented visit of U.S. President Barack Obama to Cambodia, on the heel of his exciting re-election, as a great occasion to offer a much glaringly, painfully delayed apology to Khmer victims for the destruction of Cambodia — the illegal U.S. bombings which gave rise to the diabolical reign of the Khmer Rouge," Theary Seng said in a statement before the protest.

Surviving Khmer Rouge leaders are currently on trial for their alleged roles in the 1975-79 regime's bloody excesses, while Kissinger has been castigated for decades by his critics as a would-be war criminal.

Theary Seng is a Cambodian-American lawyer who moved to the U.S. after surviving Khmer Rouge rule and has returned to her homeland to become a social activist. She says the current government of Prime Minister Hun Sen is autocratic and unjust, "which oppresses its citizens, which keeps its own citizens in prison for personal gain."

A separate demonstration held earlier Sunday by people evicted from their land without adequate compensation went more peacefully.