Union Officials Released on Bail Following Clash

Five union officials arrested last week following a clash with a rival association in Kompong Speu province were released on bail from prison last night, according to their boss, as the provincial government seeks to smooth relations within the garment industry.

Pav Sina, head of the Collective Union of Movement of Workers (CUMW), which sent its officials to support hundreds of workers protesting for better conditions at the Hong Kong-owned Agile Sweater factory in Chbar Mon City last week, said the five were released around 6:30 p.m.

“They are released,” he said by telephone as a group of workers waiting outside the prison could be heard clapping and chanting in the background.

“Once they get back to work, we can attempt to solve the other issues at the factory.”

Mr. Sina sent his officials to Agile Sweater to support non-affiliated workers who had been striking since December 25 over conditions at the factory. Central to the strife is the Trade Union Workers Federation of Progress Democracy, which is the only union registered at the factory, and whose head, Sok Ravuth, also serves as an adviser to management.

In October, two workers attempting to establish an alternate union in the factory were jailed briefly after Mr. Ravuth and factory management complained that they had used violence in their efforts to persuade workers to join them.

The five CUMW officials were arrested last Tuesday and charged with intentional violence, incitement to commit a crime and disrespecting a court order—telling workers to return to stations—after a bloody clash outside the factory that Mr. Sina believes was orchestrated by Mr. Ravuth.

“We will request that the court drops the charges against our officials,” Mr. Sina said. “They did not commit violence or incite anything. They are victims.”

An intentional violence suit filed against Mr. Ravuth would stand, he added. Mr. Ravuth has claimed that the CUMW officials arrived at the factory and unleashed violence.

Provincial governor Ou Sam An, who met with Mr. Sina on Friday to discuss a resolution, said he recommended the release of the unionists and that the two parties would now work to resolve the dispute at the factory.

“The workers’ dispute can be solved soon because they need their representatives to represent them,” Mr. Sam An said.

Despite having no official presence at Agile Sweater, Mr. Sina said he would lobby for the aggrieved workers regardless. Mr. Ravuth claims to represent 90 percent of Agile’s workforce of about 900.

In a separate case, the Svay Rieng Provincial Court is expected to make a decision this week on the bail application of four workers jailed on violence and incitement charges last month following strikes and protests that saw the Tai Seng and Manhattan Special Economic Zones closed for two days.

That unrest was brought under control when Mr. Sina and three other union leaders, all of whom claimed no role in the protests, agreed in a half-day meeting to calm the situation and the provincial government agreed to have the four released.

“The provincial government needs to be responsible for their promise,” Mr. Sina said.

Deputy provincial governor Hou Vathanak, who signed the agreement, said the bail application was still being processed.

“You should know that they won’t be in prison much longer,” he said. “They will be released.”

Heng Bong, a lawyer for the four, said she was expecting a decision by Wednesday.

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