At 07:45 on May 1st – International Worker’s Day – Nick my personal tuk-tuk driver informed me, “You can’t go to Freedom Park this morning. There are demonstrations and it is too dangerous.”
“I’m on assignment so take me to the central gate.” He shot me a withering glance. In the capacity of my new job as the associate editor of the Khmer Times I was to cover the gathering and try to get a quote or two from some Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) officials.
It all seemed calm enough. People lined both sides of the streets, strolling around. Vendors plied their trade. The Cambodian People’s Party trucks drove up and down the street warning people to disperse or there would be trouble. A man wearing a Human Rights Watch vest came up to me, “Aren’t you scared to be here?” My mind flashed back to a motorcycle crash in Nigeria, being kidnapped in Pakistan and being mugged in Morocco. “No, not really as I often seem to find myself in these sorts curious of situations”
“If the police start shooting or hitting people with their batons we have to run.”
“Hey, I’m with you on that one.”
I strolled across the street and ended up meeting a gentleman wearing a white shirt and a krama – a Khmer scarf – as a cravat. We talked and he told me he had lived in France and the US. We exchanged cards, but without my glasses I couldn’t read that Dr Long Botta has a Ph.D in nuclear physics and was a former minister of education. When he casually mentioned he was the Member of Parliament for Battanbong, I immediately turned on the voice recorder on my phone. Alas, the quality was horrible. But that doesn’t matter as we have arranged to meet for lunch on May 24 when he returns from Beijing. I want to do a profile piece of a politician. I don’t care about the party lines, I want to understand his motivation, commitment and why he got involved in the political jungle.
Nothing much seemed to be happening. Then Sam Rainsy, the leader of the CNRP arrived. It turned to bedlam so it seemed like a good time to move on. I rang Nick to collect me at the same point he had dropped me, but it took quite a while for him to get through the traffic. I stood beside the friendly looking police, rather than the riot squad behind the razor wire.
The report in the paper the next day announced that there were about 1500 people at the rally, five were injured, and three journalists attacked.
Good thing I left when I did. What I got out of the demonstration was a lunch date for 24 May with an interesting person.And how good is that?