Japan has expressed its deep concern about the situation in Cambodia following the deadly crackdown on striking garment workers last Friday, and admitted Thursday that it had contacted the government during the protests to ask for protection of Japanese citizens and companies.
Military police armed with AK-47 assault rifles shot five people dead and wounded 42 more after opening fire on protesters outside the Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, bringing to a bloody conclusion a week of mostly peaceful demonstrations by garment factory workers calling for an increase to their minimum wage.
Brigadier General Kheng Tito, spokesman for the National Military Police, said after the bloodletting that his officers had acted with deadly force to protect factories and private property inside the business park.
A day earlier, Prum Sokha, a secretary of state at the Interior Ministry, also defended the use of elite troops from the 911 paratrooper brigade who brutally broke up protests at the South Korean-owned Yakjin factory, also in Pur Senchey district.
Mr. Sokha said at the time that troops had been deployed after the Japanese Embassy had made official complaints to the government about intimidation by protesters.
“They [the Japanese embassy] made an official complaint about radical protesters—they use the word ‘radical’—who intimidate us,” Mr. Sokha said on December 2.
On Wednesday, the GlobalPost news agency reported that the South Korean Embassy had also lobbied Cambodian military authorities to protect South Korean garment factories from damage by protesters.
The South Korean Embassy responded to the report, denying that it had suggested using violence against the strikers, and said that by asking the government to protect South Korean businesses it had simply done its duty.
However, no government official has yet provided a clear explanation as to why 911 paratroopers were deployed to protect the South Korean-owned Yakjin factory—the first time combat troops were sent onto Phnom Penh’s streets during the almost weeklong, mostly peaceful strike.
The Japanese Embassy on Thursday confirmed that it too had spoken on several occasions to the government about protecting Japanese factories and staff, but said it had also insisted on non-violence from all sides.
“The embassy had a couple of chances to convey to the Cambodian government its concern about the safety of workers and the operations of Japanese factories in Cambodia and to request to take appropriate measures so that they are protected from violence,” said Yoshihiro Higuchi, minister of the Embassy of Japan.
Mr. Higuchi stressed that the Japanese Embassy called upon all parties involved in the dispute to refrain from violence and to seek to resolve the issue in a peaceful manner.
“[W]e are of the view that the citizen’s basic right to hold peaceful demonstrations and strikes should be duly respected,” he said.
“Therefore, we deeply regret the current situation where the security forces and demonstrators clashed, leading to a number of victims.”