Groups Blame ‘Extremists’ for Strike Violence

Human rights, government, labor union and garment manufacturing officials on Tuesday blamed unidentified extremists for Fri­day’s deadly conflict be­tween po­lice and striking garment factory workers while another union ac­cused the government of creating a smear campaign to suppress political ac­tivism.

Representatives from the Min­istry of Labor and Social Affairs, the Cambodian Human Rights Committee, the Garment Manu­facturers Association in Cambo­dia and the National Independent Federation Textile Union of Cambodia said they did not know who infiltrated the Niftuc strike for fair working conditions but were confident that “extremists and opportunists” had used the demonstration for political gain.

“The incident broke out when…extremists appeared and hid among the protesters, instigating the workers to turn the peaceful protest violent in order to gain the political interest for their parties,” the ministry statement said.

A weeklong strike that began June 9 turned violent on Friday when some 300 demonstrators clashed with more than 200 armed riot police outside the Ter­ratex Knitting and Garment In­ternational Factory Ltd in Chak Angre Krom commune, Mean­chey district. Workers flung stones and bricks, while police peppered the crowd with bullets.

At least nine strikers were hospitalized, according to human rights group Licadho. Twenty-four police were injured, according to the Interior Ministry. One worker and one police officer were killed.

Morm Nhim, who on June 11 threatened to storm the factory gate if her demands were not met by factory management, said she be­lieved that either the factory’s legal adviser, David Chanaiwa, or Free Trade Union of the King­dom of Cambodia President Chea Vichea organized the ex­tremists.

The director of the US State Department’s Office of Interna­tion­al Labor Af­fairs, George White, noted concerns in May that the Cam­bodian courts are being used to intimidate workers and break union activities. Several unions complained to White that Chan­aiwa has employed this method. Chanaiwa denies the charge.

Cambodian Bar Association President Ky Tech said Tuesday that Chanaiwa likely would be dis­barred for “unforgivable acts.”

Chanaiwa said Tuesday that he would continue to offer legal services to his clients. “As long as [factory managers] think I am val­uable to them, I will continue to give advice because I have done nothing wrong,” he said.

Morm Nhim also raised suspicions Tuesday about Chea Vi­chea’s role in the violence, a­l­though she said Chea Vichea had urged her early last week not to strike. She asked why Chea Vichea and Cambodian Indepen­dent Teachers’ Associa­tion Pres­ident Rong Chhun placed flowers in front of the factory for the de­ceased worker if they were not culpable of instigating the violence that killed him. She raised the same questions earlier this week on pro-CPP Bayon TV.

The Free Trade Union and CITA are key members of the Cambodian Watchdog Coun­cil, a coalition of unions that called for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation following the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots. However, the group abandoned its plan to strike after hundreds of members of the pro-government Pagoda Boys prom­ised to crush the demonstration.

The Free Trade Union on Tuesday called Morm Nhim’s repeated implication of Chea Vichea’s guilt part of a larger slander campaign designed to crack down on political dissidence. “The Niftuc-organized strike is being used in a plot to crush opposition before the July elections,” a Free Trade Union statement said.

Meanchey district Cabinet Chief Huy Sarin questioned Chea Vichea on Monday about his in­volvement in Friday’s events and said he would not investigate Morm Nhim because other officials already had questioned her. Morm Nhim said she has never been questioned by authorities.

The Free Trade Union further distanced itself from the protest, noting that the pro-CPP Cambo­dian Union Federation, which has standing at Terratex, and the Pagoda Boys—usually present at Free Trade Union strikes—were notably absent Friday.

Approximately 70 percent of Terratex’s 4,000 workers reported to duty Tuesday, factory manager Jimmy Sum said. He said the factory’s relationship with its high-profile US clothing buyer Gap Inc was in question after Friday’s violence.

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