Several hundred police will be deployed on Friday to ensure the safety of opposition leader Sam Rainsy and control an expected crowd of more than 40,000 supporters, police officials said Tuesday.
Mr. Rainsy, who will return to Cambodia after almost four years in self-imposed exile, is due to arrive at Phnom Penh International Airport just after 9 a.m. Friday and then travel to Freedom Park to address supporters.
“I cannot tell you the exact number, just that there will be many hundred police officers. I want to emphasize that there will be a lot of officers,” National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith said Tuesday, adding that the police were acting on a request the Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) had sent to the Ministry of Interior, seeking protection for Mr. Rainsy as well as crowd control.
At a meeting at City Hall on Tuesday afternoon, during which municipal officials, the CNRP and Phnom Penh police chief Chhuon Sovann discussed security matters, CNRP security expert Long Ry requested there be sufficient protection for Mr. Rainsy.
“I requested that he has security to protect him as soon as he returns until the end of the [election] campaign,” Mr. Ry said, adding that as of Tuesday evening, no decisions by the police had been made and further discussions would be held today.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann, who did not participate in the meeting, said that his party was trying to make sure that the 40,000 supporters were spread out from Phnom Penh International Airport along Russian Federation Boulevard and at Freedom Park.
“We have to facilitate traffic so we ask them to stand on the side [of the road]. We try to avoid traffic jams as much as possible,” he said.
“We plan to have 20,000 from the sky bridge to the airport. They will be on the way because there is not so much space at the airport…. Only top leaders of the CNRP will greet him at the airport,” Mr. Sovann said.
Which leaders would be allowed to go inside the airport was not yet clear, he said.
Khek Norinda, spokesman for Cambodia Airports, the company that operates Phnom Penh airport, said that only travelers or people accompanying travelers would be allowed inside the terminal. On an average day, he said, the airport currently sees 6,000 passengers, with only several hundred arriving or departing at any one time.
Despite the possibility of thousands of supporters trying to enter the airport, Mr. Norinda said that providing additional security was up to the government.
“As for any airport worldwide, overall security is within the scope of governmental forces. Being an airport operator, we will ensure that the flow of passengers and operations are not disrupted,” he said.
Hotels around Phnom Penh said Tuesday they were also taking measures by informing their guests about the 40,000-strong rally and advising them to ensure plenty of time for the ride to the airport.
Natalie Moser, marketing executive at Sofitel Phnom Penh Phokeethera, said that the hotel’s cars would not take their usual route along Russian Federation Boulevard to the airport.
“We have a different route that goes more on the outskirts…on Friday, that should be faster,” Ms. Moser said.
Ratana Chey, reservation coordinator at Sunway Hotel, said that although the hotel was recommending that guests leave three hours ahead of their flight on Friday, travelers would not experience serious delays.
“Sure there will be many thousand people on the road, but they don’t go to check in to fly somewhere, they only escort Mr. Sam Rainsy. It won’t be a problem because there will be traffic police,” Mr. Chey predicted.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren and Kaing Menghun)