Defense Minister Warns Protesters Against Blocking Streets

Striking garment factory workers and protesting CNRP supporters should respect people of other nationalities and make sure they act within the boundaries of the law, Defense Minister Tea Banh said Thursday.

Speaking at an opening ceremony for three new Royal Cambodian Armed Force science laboratory buildings, General Banh said that demonstrating is legal, but protesters should not block roads, and he accused the opposition of racism for its stance toward Vietnam.

“The CNRP has incited Cambodian people to hate other races of people,” Gen. Banh said. “Vietnam is very important, and we should remain friendly together as we have been for a long time.”

Gen. Banh also said that while the current demonstrations are legal, garment workers and the opposition should be careful not to go too far.

“They choose to protest to negatively affect Cambodia and damage the country’s reputation, but it is their right to demonstrate,” the minister said. “The demonstrations are within people’s rights, but lets not do anything too far beyond the legal limit,” he said.

“Cambodians have been subjected to torture in the past so let’s not make more torture,” he continued.

“The law does not allow them to block the road, I want to tell all demonstrators that they have to stop.”

Responding to Gen. Banh’s comments, opposition spokesman Yim Sovann said on Friday that CNRP demonstrators have a duty to protect their country from the injustices of Prime Minster Hun Sen’s ruling CPP.

“The CPP sold Cambodian land, allows illegal logging and illegal immigration, so they are rich and others are still poor,” Mr. Sovann said. “The CNRP will stop [demonstrating] if the CPP reforms the [National Election Committee] and holds a re-election, and if the government agrees to pay garment workers $160,” he said.

Despite Gen. Banh’s warnings, thousands of garment factory workers blocked two roads in Phnom Penh on Friday, while more than 10,000 garment workers and opposition supporters gathered at Freedom Park, the starting point for daily marches around the city calling for the resignation of Mr. Hun Sen.

On Friday evening, the protesters marched on Monivong, Monireth and Kampuchea Krom boulevards before returning to Freedom Park.

CNRP President Sam Rainsy also denied Gen. Banh’s claim that the opposition was behind the garment workers strike action and public protests.

“Authorities and the government have accused me of inciting workers to protest—but I don’t do that…. Workers protest because they do not make a living wage and they suffer under their employers,” he said.

“If the [garment] companies weren’t paying bribes to corrupt leaders then they would have a lot of money to pay, workers up to $200 [per month]. he said.

“They accuse me of being the protest leader, but they are the leader of cutting down the forest, selling land and corruption,” Mr. Rainsy said. “They are so cheap.”

(Additional reporting by Mech Dara)

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