ASEAN Grassroots Peoples Assembly
Phnom Penh, November 14, 2012 – The ASEAN Grassroots Peoples Assembly (AGPA) has continued today undaunted by yesterday’s developments. On Tuesday, AGPA’s opening ceremony was cancelled as a result of pressure put on the Stung Meas restaurant owner by district officials, even though the Phnom Penh Municipality granted permission for all events, except for a march, to go forward during this week.
As of today, at least five venues have cancelled their prior agreements to host civil society related events in preparation to the upcoming ASEAN and East Asia Summits, without any prior notice and often at last minute. “In at least two instances the venue owners were pressured behind the scenes by authorities, even as the same authorities publicly stated that they had no objections to the AGPA,” said Mr. Sar Mora, one of AGPA’s core organizers. Electricity was also cut to at least two of the venues and six other events have reported surveillance from undercover police outside their locations.
Meanwhile, over 100 members of Cambodian grassroots organizations have been prevented from staying in guesthouses – some were pushed out in the middle of the night, some were intimidated, and others were told that their reservations had mysteriously disappeared. Last night, members of some networks participating in AGPA were forced to leave their guesthouses after police insisted that hotel owners needed to collect names and ID card numbers of all people staying there. The AGPA participants did not feel safe in providing this information and so chose to vacate the guesthouses and find alternative accommodation for the night.
Subsequently the police visited many guesthouses last night issuing such guidelines to guesthouse owners. As a result this morning many participants faced the same demand by guesthouse owners. While some were able to negotiate strongly and successfully that this information is not needed in order for them to sleep in a guesthouse, others feel too unsafe and have arranged alternative accommodation for the remainder of their stay in the city.
AGPA’s teams were calm and clear in their negotiations with police today, showing that all workshops were allowed to happen and use private spaces was allowed. The negotiations were successful at Tuol Kork World Centre, where the workshop topic was agricultural laws, but unsuccessful at Modern B where the owners were not confident enough to allow the event to go on. Although there was no electricity throughout the morning in Modern B while negotiations went on, the workshop still continued with labour activists and workers sharing about their problems.
In the end AGPA held another successful day with the workshop participants making great headway towards their goals, even as “every workshop was disturbed, the owners of the venues were questioned and threatened by local authorities, people were and are being kicked out of guesthouses,” according to Mr Heng Socheat, a core organizer of AGPA.
Tomorrow’s event will go ahead as planned. It is a full assembly at which the participants will prepare a statement directed at the government. The statement will concern the issues that the grassroots activists feel are most important to be dealt with before the implementation of the ASEAN Economic Community.