Cambodian police blocked American actress Mia Farrow from holding a rally at a former Khmer Rouge prison today, pushing her group away from a barricade as they tried to lay flowers to commemorate victims of genocide.
Miss Farrow, who is working with the US-based advocacy group Dream for Darfur, was in Cambodia as part of a seven-nation tour of places that have suffered genocide to call attention to the humanitarian crisis in Sudan.
"My heart - our hearts - are breaking for what happened in Cambodia today, especially for the survivors of genocide," Farrow said after the stand-off with police near Tuol Sleng prison, the Khmer Rouge's main torture centre during its genocidal rule in the 1970s.
Miss Farrow had planned to light an Olympic-style torch at the site to press China to use its influence on the Sudanese government to end abuses in Darfur. China, the next Olympic host, is one of Sudan's major trading partners.
The Cambodian government banned the ceremony several days ago, calling it a political stunt to smear China.
Dozens of police sealed off all roads leading to the former prison, which is now a genocide museum in the capital, Phnom Penh. More than a hundred supporters and onlookers turned out to watch the stand-off and take pictures of the Hollywood star, who had vowed to defy the ban.
When Miss Farrow and seven other activists arrived at one of the barricades, about 170 yards from the museum's gate, they refused to go away and linked their arms in a human chain.
Miss Farrow held a bunch of white lotus flowers, a traditional offering for the dead in Cambodia.
Police pushed the group back, shouting, "Go! Go! Go!" and blowing whistles. Miss Farrow and the others eventually backed away and drove off. No-one was hurt or arrested, organisers said.
"Our goal today was to deliver these flowers in deepest respect … to honour those who have perished here in Cambodia and in Darfur and in all genocides everywhere," Miss Farrow said.
An estimated 1.7 million Cambodians died during the Khmer Rouge's 1975-1979 rule.
Thousands of Khmer Rouge prisoners were tortured at the Tuol Sleng prison before being executed outside the capital at a site known as "the killing fields".
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith accused Miss Farrow's group of trying "to exploit the bones of the dead Cambodians" to further a political cause.
"Why don't they just go to China to do that?" the spokesman said.
Dream for Darfur has taken its torch-lighting campaign to other places that have suffered mass killings - the Darfur-Chad border, Rwanda, Armenia, Germany and Bosnia-Herzegovina - to honour genocide victims and call attention to the violence in Darfur. The group plans to head to China following its Cambodia visit.
Dream for Darfur claims China has sold weapons to the Sudanese government and has defended Khartoum's actions in Darfur at the UN Security Council, while Chinese oil operations in Sudan have helped fund genocide there.
China, the biggest backer of the Khmer Rouge's communist regime in the 1970s, is a major donor to Cambodia and has been described by current Prime Minister Hun Sen as Cambodia's "most trustworthy friend".
The Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of advocacy groups, criticised the government's action.
Cambodia has "a particular responsibility to speak out loudly against atrocities in the world and join campaigns against violence, such as in Darfur", the committee said in a statement.