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NGOs push for more international pressure

Civil society groups yesterday urged the international community to put more pressure on the government to ensure the safety of prisoners arrested in recent crackdowns and to prevent further police and military violence against civilians.

At a press conference yesterday morning, images of soldiers beating and arresting protesters at Yakjin (Cambodia) Inc on January 2 played on a loop beside panellists, who criticised the government’s use of excessive force – including opening fire with live ammunition, killing at least four – at demonstrations this month.

“Those who abuse their power, especially the military and soldiers, cannot go unpunished,” Yeng Virak, executive director of the Community Legal Education Center, told journalists and NGO workers in attendance. “The armed forces and military police beat everyone – young, old, men, women and even children.”

The forum followed a statement calling for the release of 23 people arrested during demonstrations on January 2 and 3, an end to inhumane treatment of protesters and an investigation into the crackdowns – including the fatal Veng Sreng Boulevard shootings.

The use of military force against citizens is inappropriate in a democratic country, Cambodian Defenders Project director Sok Sam Oeun said. In any case, he added, the January 3 shooting must be investigated.

“The army should stay neutral if it wants the country to remain a democracy,” Sam Oeun said. “In all these incidents, whether the soldiers or military police are right or wrong, civilians are being killed, so there needs to be an urgent independent investigation.”

Inaction by the International Labour Organization and brands would equate to complicity, independent political analyst Kem Ley said. “If no action is taken by buyers or ILO, it means they are involved.”

Jill Tucker, chief technical adviser for the ILO’s Better Factories Cambodia, yesterday said that the organisation has issued many statements and letters to high-ranking government officials and is currently coordinating with international brands, as they decide what their next steps should be.

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