Friday, 7 March 2008

Cambodian parade rift to get an airing

Press - Telegram

Moderators to meet with both sides in dispute over official's invitation.

By Greg Mellen, Staff writer

LONG BEACH - Community members on both sides of a controversial decision to invite the deputy prime minister of Cambodia to participate in the annual Cambodian New Year parade will meet today to discuss their differences.

About 30 members of the Cambodian community attended Tuesday's City Council meeting. They presented the council with a petition comprising more than 1,000 signatures opposing a plan to have Cambodian leader Sok An ride in the April 6 parade.

There has been considerable confusion about who issued the invitation and whether it was properly made.

Mayor Bob Foster said at Tuesday's meeting that he never invited anyone to the parade - period.

Although the city provides support for the parade in certain areas, the City Council has no official role in the decisions the parade committee makes.

"It's not our parade," said 6th District Councilman Dee Andrews, in whose district most of the parade is held.

Vice Mayor Bonnie Lowenthal said she was distressed at the emotions the dispute has dredged up.

"People expressed outright fear and trauma," Lowenthal said, adding that the city must do what it can to assuage that.

Melissa Morgan, the city's human dignity officer and Rene Castro from the California Conference of Equality and Justice, will moderate the meeting between parade organizers, who support Sok An's participation, and opponents.

Morgan and Castro said their roles are to facilitate dialogue but it is up to two factions to resolve differences.

"I'd like to see them just listen to each other and find out where we go from here," Morgan said. "They may not come to an agreement but I just hope they hear each other."

"What I hope to achieve by bringing the parties together is the increased understanding," Castro said. "There are no easy solutions."

There is a possibility that the point will be moot. There is considerable speculation that Sok An has decided to forgo the parade.

Parade organizer Richer San said Sok An has not confirmed that he will attend but that the invitation remains.

At Tuesday's City Council meeting, a half-dozen opponents of Sok An's participation spoke to the council.

They cited Cambodia's dismal human rights record, corruption and other problems among their complaints.

Opponents also said the invitation violated the parade's own entry rules, which say entrants must be noncontroversial and should not advocate a political candidate.

Each side has met with CCEJ separately.

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