Unions, Rights Groups Celebrate May Day

More than 3,000 union workers gathered near Wat Botum on Sun­day to celebrate the first In­ter­na­tion­al Labor Day held in a public place since 2002.

“We come together to be united as a force to help all workers,” garment worker Ai Sreipov said.

Joined by representatives from hu­man rights groups, the US la­bor movement and the US Em­bas­­sy, the workers said they hoped the celebration would mark a new turn in the government’s views on public de­mon­strations.

The majority of workers came from the Coalition of Cambodian Ap­par­el Workers Democratic Union and the tourism workers’ union.

On Friday, city officials granted permission for the rally after denying permission for a short march, citing security and traffic concerns.

In a letter to Sam Rainsy Party law­makers dated April 25, co-Min­is­ter of Interior Sar Kheng and secretary of state Khann Savoeun wrote: “Before and after the formation of the government, the political situation in the country is not se­cured because of the political dead­lock, so we can determine that it is easy to cause disorder and public insecurity.”

The letter also said that a law on de­monstrations that was ratified on Dec 27, 1991, ahead of the 1993 Con­stitution, is still in effect.

Khann Savoeun could not be reached for comment Sunday.

CCAWDU President Ath Thorn said now that the government has proof a rally can take place without a disturbance, it will be easier to get a march permit in the fu­ture.

While some expressed disappointment that workers weren’t al­lowed to march, speech after speech emphasized that the rally was a historic gathering.

Alonzo Suson, a representative from the labor NGO American Cen­ter for International Labor So­lid­arity, which helped fund the event, called the rally “a start.”

But two unions, the Free Trade Union and the Cambodian In­de­pen­dent Teachers Association, did not join the rally to protest the prohibition against marching.

Instead, about 60 members burned incense and said prayers in front of the newsstand where former FTU president Chea Vi­che­a was killed on Jan 22, 2004.

Members of the government-backed Cambodian Union Fe­der­a­tion were also absent. CUF president Chuon Mon Thol said Sun­day his union was invited but did not participate. A limited police presence could be seen at both events, with small numbers of uniformed officers on the edges and plain-clothes police in the crowd.

“Nothing strange [happened] be­­cause they had the permission from the municipality,” police Com­missioner Heng Pov said.

He said, contrary to earlier re­ports that police were worried the outlawed Cambodian Free­dom Fighters would use the oc­casion to act, police had only feared criminals might have in­serted themselves into the crowd and inspired looting.

(Ad­ditional reporting by Eric Was­son.)


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