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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Shots fired at worker protest

Shots fired at worker protest

090507_01.jpg
090507_01.jpg

Photo by:

Tracey Shelton

Chinese construction workers show a bullet casing from a gun fired into the air during their protest Wednesday at the Chinese embassy. 

SECURITY police at the Chinese embassy in Phnom Penh opened fire during a confrontation with more than 100 protesters Wednesday as they sought intervention over a pay dispute.

About 110 Chinese construction workers employed by the Jiangsu Province First Construction Installation Co Ltd gathered at the embassy, claiming the company owners fled the country leaving them without six months' back pay.

A protester representative said the workers were employed by the company to work on Phnom Penh's Tonle Bassac City development for almost eight months but had so far received just two months' pay.

He also said the company had taken their passports, stranding them in Cambodia.

"We want the embassy to contact the company and force them to return our passports and pay us our salary," said another worker.

During the protest, which began midday, the workers carried a banner reading, "We want to return home", demanding a meeting with embassy

officials. Security guards ordered protesters to cross the road to wait and fired three warning shots in the air when protesters tried to push their way inside the embassy gates.

Ngin Sokhen, the security officer who fired his weapon, told the Post that the protesters were threatening to hit police, so he opened fire in order to maintain security.

"I didn't shoot at them, I shot in the air," he said after the protest. "I didn't want to touch them, but I wanted them to be calm and wait."  

Embassy officials who negotiated with the protesters declined to comment on the protest but said they plan to meet with five worker representatives today.

The officials also said they would arrange documents so the workers could return home.

Mom Sitha, director of the municipal branch of the Ministry of Interior's Foreigners Office, said Cambodian authorities would let the Chinese government resolve the problem with the protesters before taking action.

Jiangsu Province First Construction Installation Co Ltd was reportedly contracted to complete construction work at the Tonle Bassac City housing development in Chamkarmon district.

Pung Kheav Se, the owner of the development, could not be reached for comment Wednesday.

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