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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Police in strike shootings to be investigated

Police arrest a man during a violent riot that left one dead and many injured in front of the Stung Meanchey pagoda in the capital on Tuesday.
Police arrest a man during a violent riot that left one dead and many injured in front of the Stung Meanchey pagoda in the capital on Tuesday. Kara Fox

Police in strike shootings to be investigated

Police officers who defied orders not to open fire on rioting garment workers on Tuesday – an act that resulted in the fatal shooting of 49-year-old rice vendor Eng Sokhom – could lose their jobs, a National Police spokesman said yesterday.

Kirt Chantarith told the Post that a committee had been set up in the aftermath of Sokhom’s death to investigate why police had used live ammunition on protesters, the second death of an unarmed civilian on the capital’s streets in less than two months.

“The [National Police] Commissioner General [Neth Savoeun] ordered them not to use guns,” Chantarith said, referring to the violent crackdown on workers from the SL Garment factory on Tuesday that left at least six others with bullet wounds. “He ordered them just to use water and tear gas.”

The police officers who violated those orders would “face disciplinary action, according to the investigation”, he added.

Such action could include dismissal, he said.

When asked if officers who pulled the trigger would face criminal charges, Chantarith’s phone went dead and he could not be reached again.

After the fatal shooting of 29-year-old Mao Sok Chan during a clash at a bridge on the capital’s Monivong Boulevard in September, rights groups called for a full investigation.

Despite previous comments from officials suggesting such an investigation was not being undertaken, Chantarith said yesterday that police had already formed a committee to investigate that bloodshed.

Buth Bunchhean, a Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) legal officer who was involved in the clash on Tuesday, said his union would launch its own investigation into the shooting.

“We’re going to investigate [why police fired guns] to crack down on the workers,” he said. “We cannot accept what has occurred. Police must investigate this woman’s death.” The police, he added, must press charges against officers who had fired their guns, in order to avoid further deaths.

Dave Welsh, country manager for labour-rights group Solidarity Center/ACILS, said it was critical that Sokhom’s death be investigated.

“Using live ammunition is totally unacceptable,” he said. “It is critical that [Sokhom’s death] be investigated and some liability be attached.”

Rights groups and observers will be focused intently on the progress of the investigation, especially after Military Police spokesman Kheng Tito, who could not be reached yesterday, said on Tuesday that it was not yet conclusive that police bullets had killed Sokhom, despite numerous eyewitness accounts of police firing live ammunition and photographs showing police with drawn pistols.

That was a sentiment repeated by Phnom Penh deputy police chief Choun Narin yesterday.

“Did you really see police take a gun and shoot them?” he asked a reporter during a press conference.

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