Hundreds of military police officers carrying riot shields and four fire trucks blocked a road to prevent about 2,000 striking garment workers from marching to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house near Independence Monument on Friday morning. The workers—from Singaporean-owned SL Garment Factory, which supplies the Gap—have been striking for more than a month to demand food stipends, the reinstatement of fired union leaders and that one of the factory’s managers be fired.
The workers marched for about one hour from the factory in Meanchey district’s Stung Meanchey commune until they were stopped by police on Street 371. “I regret that they used a huge amount of armed forces to prevent us from marching to Hun Sen’s house to ask for help,” Chhem Sophal, a 24-year-old worker, said. “City Hall and the Ministry of Social Affairs failed to resolve our dispute, so we want to march to [Hun Sen’s house],” he said. After blocking the workers for an hour, police officials said that they would let 30 workers through to meet a representative of Mr. Hun Sen’s Cabinet. Once the 30 representatives had reached Wat Botum Park, however, Kong Chamroeun, a Cabinet representative, accepted a petition but did not speak to the factory workers’ representatives. “City Hall will solve this,” Mr. Chamroeun said. “There was no solution when we met with Hun Sen’s Cabinet,” said Phal Dynak, one of the 30 workers who were allowed to march to Wat Botum. “They just came out to receive our petition and said that they will resolve the issue. I think they will ignore finding a solution.” Municipal Military Police Commander Major General Rath Srieng defended the need for such a large police presence, but declined to say exactly how many military police officers blocked the protesters. “We have put many forces of military police in place to balance the [large number of] protesters and to keep both sides quiet. If we only had four or 10 military police forces, the protesters will rampage the forces,” Mr. Srieng said.