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Center staff say it was a walk-out

Center staff say it was a walk-out

T HE VVAF's high-profile Kien Khleang center in Phnom Penh was closed for two

days last week because of a staff walk-out, according to workers.

VVAF, however, says the closure was for security reasons following an alleged

threat to blow the facility up.

Kien Khleang, which employs about 150 Khmer staff, many of them amputees,

produces artificial limbs and wheelchairs for dozens of patients a week.

Two staff groups, interviewed separately, said they stopped work on Feb 16-17

because of what they saw as attempts to sack people and cut salaries.

They referred to disputes with two senior staff, including the centre's new

manager Jo nagels, whom they wanted sacked.

One worker said the staff were concerned at "authoritarianism" which they

regarded as an attempt to "apply communist regulations" on them.

However, VVAF's special assistant to the project director, Ed Miles, said the

closure followed a reported threat to kill him and blow up Kien Khleang.

He said that, on the morning of Feb 15, a Khmer man contacted VVAF saying he

had been offered money to commit the murder and blow up Kien Khleang.

The offer had been made by a "former disgruntled employee", a Westerner, whom

he would not name.

He said the Khmer man was taken to give a statement to be

the US Embassy, which was taking the matter up with the Cambodian Ministry of

Foreign Affairs with a view to having the Westerner expelled from Cambodia.

US Embassy spokesman Frank Huffman would not confirm Miles' statements except

to say: "We know of has allegations".

Pressed to comment, he said: "That sounds a little far-fectched."

Ron Podlaski, a former VVAF project director who has made public allegations

of mismanagement, said he was the former employee referred to.

He said he had fired the Khmer man who had apparently made the allegations

the day before from the crew of his river tour boat. He said the man was trying

to get even with him.

Podlaski acknowledged going to VVAF's offices on the afternoon of Feb. 15 but

denied an allegation from Miles that he had made threats there.

Bobby Muller, VVAF's Washington-based executive-director, said the security

threat was being taken seriously.

The center reopened on Feb 18 after security measures, including the posting

of Cambodian military police, were taken at Kien Khleang.

Muller acknowledged that there had been unrelated staff grievances at the

center, which he said was caused by unfounded concern about attempts to change

work practices.

Jo Nagels, the center's new manager, said he had signed a letter of

understanding with the staff saying they would be consulted about any

changes.

He said some of the grievances related to his questioning of matters such as

why Kien Khleang's residential supervisor had three advisers, and about salaries

paid to some people who did not seem to turn up for work.

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