Police Backtrack on Factory Fire Probe, Say Complaint Needed

Lieutenant General Mok Chito of the National Police on Wednesday said authorities were not investigating the cause of a fire that gutted a Phnom Penh garment factory in July and killed a Chinese supervisor, and never had, despite repeatedly telling reporters previously that an investigation was ongoing.

On July 28, a blaze tore through the Chinese-owned Cheng Sheng Garment factory in Pur Senchey district before firefighters could extinguish it.

On Wednesday, Lt. Gen. Chito, who heads the National Police’s central judicial department, said authorities were not investigating the cause of the fire because no complaint had been filed.

“How can we do an investigation, since there was no complaint, and no complaint from the insurance company?” he said. “When there   is a complaint, we will launch an investigation.”

His comments directly contradict his repeated remarks in the days after the fire.

On July 29, Lt. Gen. Chito said: “For a big case like this, we need to investigate to find out whether it was an accident or whether someone caused it, so our experts have gone to investigate but they do not have any answer yet.”

The factory’s owner, meanwhile, was still in China—as he was at the time of the fire—recovering from an unspecified illness, said Hel Phalla, the factory’s head of administration.

The owner’s absence from Cambodia has been holding up efforts to negotiate a settlement with the factory’s approximately 900 employees, who want severance pay and have continued to protest outside the burnt-out building.

Hong Chenda, a representative for the workers, said a meeting at the Arbitration Council offices on Tuesday was a failure because the factory manager who showed up claimed to have no authority to enter negotiations.

She said a meeting at the Ministry of Labor on Wednesday also stalled because the factory sent no representative at all, and that another meeting is scheduled for today.

Ms. Phalla said a “friend” of the owner who might be able to assist in negotiations had recently arrived from China.

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