Prime Minister Hun Sen got an unexpected send-off from thousands of striking garment factory workers Thursday morning when his motorcade passed the marchers along Russian Boulevard as he traveled to Phnom Penh International Airport to depart for a three-day state visit to Vietnam.
Holding paper placards demanding a salary of $160 per month, many among a crowd of between 5,000 and 6,000 garment workers chanted “Hun Sen Euy! Choh Chenh Tov! [Hun Sen get out],” as the prime minister’s car and an accompanying entourage of senior government officials passed by the marchers.
Police and members of the prime minister’s personal bodyguard unit, who normally clear the streets of the city for Mr. Hun Sen’s motorcade to pass, appeared unable to keep the marching workers out of sight, and earshot, of the premier.
Marching with the workers, Rong Chhun, president of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions (CCU), said that 85 percent of the strikers encountered by the prime minister on Russian Boulevard had walked out of more than 20 garment factories in the city’s Choam Chao area and were en route to join the opposition party’s protest at Freedom Park.
“The worker marched from Choam Chao only to demand their main claim of wage rise,” Mr. Chhun said.
Council of Ministers’ spokesman Phay Siphan said he had not accompanied Mr. Hun Sen to the airport and was not aware of the uncharacteristic greeting the prime minister had received on the road.
Mr. Siphan also said the workers’ chants to the prime minister were futile.
“Their yelling is their business. The people already willingly decided [on Mr. Hun Sen as prime minister] after the July election,” he said.
Mr. Hun Sen, who is accompanied on his visit to Hanoi by his wife Bun Rany, Finance Minister Aun Porn Moniroth, Commerce Minister Sun Chanthol and Foreign Minister Hor Namhong, was scheduled to meet Thursday afternoon with Vietnam’s Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung, according to his personal assistant Sry Thamarong.
Mr. Thamarong said that nine agreements are to be signed between the two governments during the state visit, which will also see Mr. Hun Sen meet former Vietnamese military volunteers, including one-time Vietnamese President Le Duc Anh, who planned the military incursion in December 1978 to topple Pol Pot.
Responsible for Vietnamese forces in Cambodia during the 1980s and State President from 1992 to 1997, Le Duc Anh was instrumental in helping to raise the military forces that ousted Pol Pot, and brought Hun Sen and other senior members of the ruling party to power. Biographers Harish and Julie Mehta noted in their book “Strongman” that one of Mr. Hun Sen’s closest relationships during the 1980s was with then-General Le Duc Anh.
Mr. Hun Sen will also have lunch with Vietnamese investors today, Mr. Thamarong said, adding that trade with Vietnam is currently more than $3 billion and the government “vows to reach $5 billion in 2015.”
“We know that we can do it,” he said.