Marking the second anniversary of union leader Chea Vichea’s assassination, more than 100 union and NGO workers marched Sunday from the Free Trade Union office in Phnom Penh to the newsstand where he was gunned down.
The procession set out from the FTU office a little after 8:15 am, led by union members who carried a picture of Chea Vichea and five large wreaths to the newsstand at Wat Lanka where Chea Vichea was gunned down on Jan 22, 2004.
Organizers had hoped some 400 people would attend but acting FTU president Sam Srey Mom said the small turnout did not suggest the labor movement had been weakened by Chea Vichea’s death.
The commemoration march was kept intentionally small so that a minimum number of workers would be affected at work and as an allowance to the municipality, which was worried about disruptions during the Senate elections, Sam Srey Mom said.
“We did not want our march to affect the public order which is why we invited only union representatives from each factory,” she said.
“Our workers’ forces are still strong,” she added.
A small number of uniformed police officers hovered on the edges of the small procession, while a greater number of undercover police and military police intelligence officers mingled with the crowd.
Nevertheless, participants were allowed to march and make some short speeches without interference.
Cambodian Independent Teachers’ Association president Rong Chhun, who was released last week on bail after being charged with criminal defamation, signed an agreement promising that participants in the march wouldn’t cause trouble.
“We will never ever forget his strong actions in helping the Cambodian people and workers,” Rong Chhun said in a short speech at the newsstand.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema, who refused permission for the march, said on Sunday that he was not upset with the decision to proceed with the ceremony but said he may call organizers to a meeting to discuss the march.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak said that permitting the march and ceremony to proceed “proves that freedom of expression and freedom of assembly are not affected.”
“But those people want Cambodia to be a state of law, even though those people do not follow the law,” he added.
Several participants said they were happy to attend the ceremony despite the municipality refusing to grant official permission.
“I knew the municipality rejected it but I am not scared,” said garment worker Hel Leakhena. “I love Chea Vichea. He did so many things.”
Others were upset at the small turnout. “I’m really saddened there were few participants,” said Chan Sitha, a SRP member and former friend of the slain union leader.
“They used to gather by the thousands, but it might be the political situation,” she said.