Rain Mires Massive Khmer New Year Party at Site of Strikes

Torrential rain on Saturday night ruined a large Khmer New Year staff party and concert at the Phnom Penh Special Economic Zone (PPSEZ), one of the main sites of the nationwide garment sector strikes in late December and early January.

The event, which organizers hoped would attract 10,000 workers and feature performances by pop star Meas Soksophea and comedian Team Peakmi, was over almost before it started, as a lightning storm just after 8 p.m. sent attendees running for shelter.

The crowd, who had been watching the opening of a beauty competition to win the “Star of PPSEZ” crown, sought cover from the rain in the large field, with most hiding under sheets of plastic or the canopies of merry-go-rounds set up in a small nearby fairground.

With a lull in the rain at about 9:30 p.m., the event’s M.C. reappeared with the news that the event would restart. Ms. Soksophea had arrived and Mr. Peakmi was 10 minutes away, the M.C. said.

As if on cue, the torrential rains restarted.

The event was finally called off after a third attempt to restart proceedings a half hour later was followed by even more rain. An organizer for the event said that next year’s party would be held in January or February to avoid the rain.

Saturday night’s event had been billed by public relations firm Brains Communication as the country’s largest Khmer New Year party. It came just three months after military police and an elite squadron of the military arrested, beat and shot workers to put down the nationwide strike.

“We want to thank our employees for their commitment and for their dedication to Phnom Penh SEZ,” PPSEZ public relations chief Carie Phou is quoted as saying in a press release.

“All staffs working here have in the past years, and especially in the last months, shown great unity and support for PPSEZ.”

On December 27, amid the nationwide strike of garment workers demanding a basic monthly wage of $160, workers blocked National Highway 4 in front of the SEZ and clashed with military police.

Six protesting workers and seven police officers were injured. Workers at the site claimed that military police had beaten strikers as they attempted to leave their factories to join the protests.

Although Saturday’s party was entirely peaceful and attended largely by women and children, armed soldiers from the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ elite Brigade 70 were present to provide security and direct traffic.

Workers at the party said they were disappointed not to see Ms. Soksophea perform, but would rejoin any future strikes.

“Although they try to hold a concert or anything else for us, we will never forget and forgive them since they killed our friends,” said Sok Lin, 22, who said she had worked at the PPSEZ for the past two years.

dara@cambodiadaily.com, willemyns@cambodiadaily.com

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