The man who shot three protesters at a demonstration outside a factory that supplies sportswear giant PUMA on Monday had been identified, the Minister of Interior said yesterday, before condemning police who shoot unarmed villagers.
Sar Kheng refused to disclose details of the alleged triggerman because doing so would compromise the investigation, but said sufficient evidence had been gathered to finger the suspect.
“We know who the shooter is, and we also have the evidence [to convict him]. Every country has protests, but we [Cambodia] take a gun to find resolution for those who have no guns,” he said.
“Ordering the police to shoot villagers – this practice is out of date. It is not the Khmer Rouge regime, we have to protect the villagers,” he said.
The shootings took place during a protest of about 6,000 people outside the Kaoway Sports Ltd factory in Svay Rieng province’s Bavet town, where company employees were joined by workers from Kingmaker, Sheico Group and Ankor Supreme.
Eyewitnesses told the Post that a man in a khaki police uniform stepped out of a Toyota Camry and began shooting into a crowd at about 8am on Monday after protesters began hurling rocks at the Kaoway Sports factory and lighting tyres.
They said the perpetrator, flanked by a bodyguard and a police officer, then jumped into a getaway car and fled the factory in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone. Police have denied an officer shot the protesters.
One of the bullets hit 21-year-old Buot Chinda just above the heart, pierced her lung and exited her back, leaving the young woman in serious condition, with blood and fluid entering her lungs.
Two others, Keo Near – mistakenly identified by police on Monday as Keo Neth – and Nuth Sakhorn, were also shot, but did not sustain any serious injuries.
Keo Near yesterday questioned why PUMA had said that it could not verify whether or not the victims were Kaoway Sports employees in a statement the company released late on Monday.
“They [PUMA] said we are not employees for Kaoway. If we are not employees for the factory, then who are we? We protested, and they shot us,” Keo Near said yesterday from her bed in a medical clinic.
The PUMA statement also said that, based on an investigation by the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia and information from the factory, one person was shot but was not in critical condition and would be released in five days.
The statement incorrectly stated that Buot Chinda had undergone an operation and that workers from Kaoway Sports had not participated in the demonstration.
PUMA has since released a revised statement stating that a company official and a representative of the Cambodian Legal Education Centre (CLEC) would make a visit to Buot Chinda at Phnom Penh’s Calmette hospital.
GMAC secretary-general Ken Loo stood by his version of events yesterday.
“What I told PUMA was that as far as we’re concerned, as far as the factory was concerned, we didn’t know exactly the identity of those who were shot, and if we didn’t know their exact identity, how could we know if they were employees of the factory?” he said.
He claimed a surgeon at Svay Rieng provincial hospital told him Buot Chinda’s condition was not serious, but that after he reported this to PUMA, her condition deteriorated following an operation.
Svay Rieng provincial hospital deputy director Kouch Sipha said yesterday that neither he, nor any of his staff members, had ever told anyone that her condition was not serious.
“The only people I spoke to yesterday were journalists, I did not talk to anyone from GMAC,” he said, adding that no operation had been conducted on Buot Chinda.
The Kaoway Sports Ltd factory has now been temporarily closed, and police are deployed along National Road 1 from Svay Rieng town to Bavet town to ensure employees of the factory do not travel there to protest.
Svay Rieng provincial governor Cheing Am said during a meeting with the Ministry of Labour yesterday that the factory agreed to provide workers with US$0.50 for food per day, $10 per month for transportation and $2 for days when trucks could not take them to work.
In a joint statement yesterday, rights groups Licadho and CLEC slammed a culture of blatant impunity in Cambodia that fostered such attacks against unarmed protesters.
“This latest shooting appears to be a clear-cut case of attempted murder,” the statement quoted Licadho senior investigator Am Sam Ath as saying.
At Phnom Penh’s Calmette hospital yesterday, Buot Chinda spoke briefly, telling a reporter that knowing the perpetrator had been identified was making her feel better.
“Now I’m a little bit better. I have no power. I was hurt very badly in my chest. The scene seemed so cruel. I was afraid,” she said.