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Processing violent crackdowns

In the past four weeks, authorities in Phnom Penh have shot dead at least four people, injured and arrested dozens more and banned public gatherings.

As Twitter feeds have gone into overdrive with eyewitness accounts of crackdowns – as happened yesterday with events at Freedom Park – Cambodians living and working outside the small pockets where violence has erupted have continued on with life.

Interviews on the streets yesterday, while providing no definitive gauge of public sentiment, did provide insight into how some people are processing the authorities’ increasingly heavy-handed approach.

“Wherever we go now we are fearful, because we don’t know if we will ride into a protest,” said Chan Srey Korn, 19, a restaurant worker who was relaxing with friends near a restaurant on Koh Pich yesterday. “If police use violence, there might be some among us injured.”

Srey Korn and her friends were not aware of yesterday’s crackdown, nor had they seen any violence this month. But like many others, they had been following via Facebook.

“We don’t want any more blood on the streets,” she said. “But we also don’t want to get involved in any of these protests or join [striking workers], even though our own salaries are only about $110 per month.”

At a market in Daun Penh district, 55-year-old Ke Khorn, who listens to Radio Free Asia for protest updates, also said she is concerned about escalating violence.

“[My family] is living in fear that the Pol Pot regime will come back again as more people protest and the police crack down on them,” she said, adding that the ruling Cambodian People’s Party was to blame for the violence.

“People are only protesting for their rights to live … but more people will end up fighting to the death.”

Khorn said, however, that she did not plan on being one of them – protesting is something she wants to avoid.

Others have found themselves caught in the middle of a crackdown while going about their work.

A vendor outside the Royal Palace said yesterday that she had “no time to protest” but had been on the scene when authorities detained Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association (IDEA) acting president Sok Chhun Oeung last Sunday.

“A group of people just came to pray … for the release of 23 people, and government security guards dispersed them and arrested a man. I don’t understand why. It’s a public place.”

Motodop Keo Bunn, 30, said he received news updates of protests through Facebook and has noticed resilience among those protesting in the streets.

“I believe more people will go on strike in the future – and there will be more crackdowns. But many injustices are happening … and if people are scared, they can’t win.”

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