US ambassador to Cambodia William Todd has weighed in on the government’s brutal crackdown on striking garment workers earlier this month, calling the confrontation and subsequent ban on demonstrations
a “significant setback” in the Kingdom’s democratic development.
In his first “Ask the Ambassador” column of 2014, Todd criticises the government’s use of military units to control protesting workers on January 2 and 3, which resulted in at least four deaths and 26 injuries from bullets, according to rights group Licadho.
“While the United States recognizes the fundamental responsibility of the Royal Government to maintain order and protect the general welfare of its people, appropriate proportional responses must be used,” he writes in the column published yesterday.
“Part of exercising restraint is adhering to the rule of posse comitatus, which prohibits the use of military force in responding to civilian crises.”
Ambassador Todd also said he was “deeply disappointed” in Phnom Penh Municipality’s decision to ban opposition demonstrations – enacted following a violent clear out of Freedom Park on January 4 – and called for renewed talks.
“The need for sustained dialogue between the two major political parties is more urgent than ever,” he writes, despite noting that court summonses issued for opposition and union leaders are likely to stymie productive talks.
“I am equally concerned about the 23 detained protesters in Kampong Cham and the apparent violation of their basic rights guaranteed by the Cambodian constitution,” Todd added, saying that transparent and fair judicial proceedings for the arrestees and summonsed leaders would show the government’s willingness to work with the opposition and protesters.
“It is only through the hard work of negotiation and compromise that a sustainable and equitable way forward can be found.”
Todd, who cut his end of year holiday short to return to Cambodia after the clashes, makes no mention of any punitive action if disproportionate military responses are again used by authorities against protesters.
Embassy spokesman Sean McIntosh yesterday said he would not “speculate on that point”.