A band of tuk-tuk drivers wearing motorbike helmets descended on sacked drivers protesting outside the Capitol Tours bus company on Saturday, beating the demonstrators until they disbanded as police stood by.
At least 14 people were injured in the attack outside the firm’s headquarters in Phnom Penh’s Prampi Makara district, according to rights groups. While none of the attackers were arrested, police arrested a protesting bus driver and an official from a supporting labor association.
Around 40 former bus drivers have been protesting for months over what they say is unlawful firing after they attempted to unionize under the Cambodian Labor Confederation.
At 8 a.m., the drivers and their supporters gathered and held up signs calling for their reinstatement and for riders to boycott the company. Though peaceful, the drivers at one point walked into the street to block a Capitol Tours bus from proceeding. In CCTV footage published by Fresh News, the protesters can be seen being pushed back by a couple of police and bystanders.
About 10 minutes later, some 50 tuk-tuk drivers—ostensibly angry at the loss of business the protests were incurring—approached the group and began beating them with bamboo poles, metal bars, sticks and hammers, according to rights group Licadho.
In video footage released by the group, a man can be seen wielding a hammer and using it to smash a fallen protester on the head and back. All the drivers are believed to be affiliated with Cambodia for Confederation Development Association which has blocked such protests in the past and whose members have admitted to being paid to hold counter-protests.
Rights monitors said the police did virtually nothing to stop the violence and that several even joined the attackers.
“I think police gave the opportunity for violence to happen because they did nothing to prevent it and did not break it up when it occurred,” said Am Sam Ath, technical director of Licadho.
Bun Satya, chief of Phnom Penh penal police, said he knew nothing about the arrests, as did Eng Sorphea, chief of the Phnom Penh police’s serious crimes unit. Prampi Makara district police chief Neth Sithon declined to comment.
Ean Kimhun, secretary-general of the Cambodia Transportation Workers Federation, said the two arrested were Nan Vanna, a former Capitol Tours driver, and Ros Vithey, an official from the Cambodia Informal Worker Association.
Thet Vuthy, one of the fired Capitol Tours bus drivers, was bashed bloody by a hammer-wielding counter-protester.
“I tried to stop a fight from happening, but they pushed me to the ground and two men hit my head and arms with a hammer,” he said, adding that the police arrived about 10 minutes after the fracas.
He said he believed the drivers had been hired by the company, but remained undeterred.
“The company shouldn’t think that they can hire those tuk-tuk drivers to beat me again because I will continue to protest against them until I get my job back,” he said.
Capitol Tours general manager Phan Sopheap denied the claim, saying the tuk-tuk drivers hit back for fear of continued income losses.