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Exodus follows violent clash

Exodus follows violent clash

Garment workers have begun leaving the area surrounding embattled Veng Sreng street en masse, following the outbreak of clashes early on Friday morning.

An estimated 80 per cent of the more than 10,000 workers who live and are employed in the Meanchey district suburb have vacated their homes, said Som Aun, president of the government’s Cambodian Council of National Unions (CCNU).

“As far as I know, the workers at other factories did not return to their hometowns, but the workers living on Veng Sreng street and near Canadia park left their rental homes out of fear,” he said.

Four people were killed and more than 20 injured after riot police opened fire outside the Canadia Industrial Park on protesting workers, some of whom were armed with homemade weapons, rocks and
Molotov cocktails.

Those who joined the clashes numbered only in the hundreds, while many living in the surrounding area began evacuating as early as Friday.

Keo Nary, 31, said she left as soon as the fighting broke out and returned home to Svay Rieng at her parents urging.

“I heard the shooting like firecrackers near my rental house. I am so frightened, because I have never seen such an event before,” said Nary, who is employed at 8 Star Sportswear.

“I do not know yet whether I will go back to work or suspend my employment. It depends on the situation in Phnom Penh. But I am worried I will not receive the wage, because the company pays wages to the workers every sixth of the month,” she said.

Pen Dos, 26, said he, too, had returned to his home in Svay Rieng after seeing military police officers storm rental homes shortly after midnight on Friday and beat up workers.

“They knocked down the doors to find the workers and hit and arrested without paying attention to whether they joined the protest, that’s why I am scared,” he said.

Like Nary, Dos will not return until the situation appears calm, saying he would wait until he felt his security could be assured.

According to the CCNU’s Aun, factories would be re-opening on Wednesday – following the Tuesday national holiday.

“I hope that they will come back to work as usual then when the situation at Canadia park is back to normal,” Aun said.

May Sopheaktra, secretary general of the Cambodian Alliance Trade Union (CATU), said yesterday that his union was still calling for a $160 a month minimum wage.

“We are preparing a new strategy based on the worker’s desire, but we do it step by step.”

On Wednesday, the five major unions are set to meet with the Labour Ministry to discuss the strikes and recent outbreaks of violence.

Solidarity Center country director Dave Welsh said it was difficult to gauge how much of the exodus was due to the violence, and how much was part of a holiday weekend stretching to Tuesday’s national holiday.

But there could be little doubt that the clashes had an impact.

“I’m sure this is a huge contributing factor.”

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SEAN TEEHAN

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