Threatened Union Leader Goes Into Hiding

A union federation president who is also a Sam Rainsy Party activist went into hiding Tuesday after being advised that an intimidating message he received last week is a credible threat to his life, union officials said Tuesday.

Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia Presi­dent Chea Vichea may leave the country, Free Trade Un­ion ad­viser George Mcleod said.

Chea Vichea last week said he received a telephone text message calling him a dog and saying “I want to kill you [on July 26].” The union president used his federation to rally workers’ support for the Sam Rainsy Party throughout the election campaign period, distributing pamphlets featuring pictures of Chea Vichea and Sam Rainsy victoriously raising their hands together.

“Workers seem to be mobilizing against what looks like an un­fair election and [members of the CPP] want to pin it on Chea Vichea,” Mcleod said.

Jason Judd, American Center for Inter­national Labor Solidarity country representative, said the death threat appeared credible and should not be underestimated. “We are taking it seriously. It’s hard to tell what will happen, but it’s not the kind of thing you want to bet against,” Judd said.

The Free Trade Union is at the forefront of the Cambodia Watch­dog Council, a coalition of unions that called for the resignation of Prime Minister Hun Sen following the Jan 29 anti-Thai riots.

Free Trade Union strikes and demonstrations have been frequent targets for the pro-Hun Sen Pagoda Boys Association.

Many garment workers returning from voting in the provinces Monday and Tuesday were too afraid to enter Phnom Penh after rumors spread in the countryside that a coup d’etat was under way, said Cambodian Coalition of Apparel Workers Dem­ocratic Union President Chhorn Sokha.

“Some workers have not re­turned to Phnom Penh because they have seen police with guns. Most are afraid that a bad event will happen like the 1997 grenade attack, so they returned home,” Chhorn Sokha said.

Garment Manufacturers As­soci­ation in Cambodia members have been advised not to penalize workers for returning late to work, said GMAC Secretary-General David Van. All garment workers should have returned to the factories today.

The Ministry of Labor and Social Affairs issued a statement to union leaders on Monday re­questing that workers not participate in demonstrations surrounding election results. “Please don’t participate in any activities which affect public order, social stability and [will] affect both your work and your families,” a Labor Ministry statement said.

The statement requests in­creased police surveillance and security around factories and other industries.

Judd said the statement is against the law. “That’s inappropriate and illegal for the government to advise [workers] not to be political,” he said. Numerous calls from workers concerned about the CPP’s strong performance indicate an un­dercurrent of confusion and anxiety, he added.

Chhorn Sokha said she would not plan a demonstration for fear of being affiliated with a political party but would not discourage workers from protesting election results.


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