With victims’ families still awaiting the results of an investigation into the deadly shootings during clashes on January 3, the Ministry of Interior released a separate report on Wednesday accusing the opposition of sparking the violence in an attempt to “topple” the government.
The report also accuses the Cambodia National Rescue Party, and to a lesser extent unions and unnamed NGOs, of inciting “illegal” and "violent” demonstrations that caused $100 million worth of property damage and lost garment orders since last July’s election.
“The illegal demonstrations led by the CNRP was planned provocation aimed at toppling a legitimate government by inciting violent, anarchic clashes, leading to the loss of people’s lives and injuries to security personnel and civilians,” the report says.
While the report, written by a ministry damage-evaluation committee, references the 23 workers and unionists arrested in early January, it contains no information about an investigation into the authorities’ widely condemned firing of live ammunition on Phnom Penh’s Veng Sreng Boulevard that killed at least four people and left dozens injured.
Instead, the report catalogues losses for the nation’s 500-plus garment factories, which it says have lost about $46 million in undelivered orders and suffered some $17 million in physical damage. Harm done to other private property, including to a medical clinic near where the shootings occurred, and public property across the country has exceeded $7.5 million, according to the report.
Demonstrations affected freedom, safety, public order and investments, which resulted in human rights abuses, economic “sabotage” and political “subversion”, the report adds.
“The illegitimate demonstrations led by the CNRP incited ethnic discrimination, divided the people and broke the law,” it states.
CNRP leaders Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha are also accused in the report of “cheating people” both locally and abroad to amass support and resources for demonstrations at Freedom Park.
Even before the violence on January 3, the CNRP rejected suggestions that it was rallying garment workers, who were striking for a $160 monthly minimum wage.
At the time, the CNRP had been holding daily demonstrations demanding Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation and a new election. Many garment workers attended opposition rallies, and Rainsy encouraged them to keep striking until their demands were met.
But opposition lawmaker-elect Mu Sochua dismissed the report outright yesterday, saying the CNRP could not accept an investigation that did not focus on the security forces’ use of live ammunition and the fate of missing teenager Khim Saphath, who was last seen on Veng Sreng Boulevard with blood pouring from his chest during the January 3 violence.
“The result is that the [Ministry of Interior] is accusing the CNRP,” she said. “Mr Sar Kheng himself has to be responsible for those who had the guns and shot people.”
National Police spokesman Kirt Chantharith said he agreed with what was in the report, but would not comment on whether he wanted criminal charges to be pressed against the CNRP.
“Regarding punishment … that is beyond my capacity and is something only the Ministry of Interior or [senior] government officials can address,” he said.
Khieu Sopheak, Ministry of Interior spokesman, said he had “no idea” whether the government wanted to take the matter further.
On January 12, Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that Interior Minister Sar Kheng was leading an investigation into the violence on Veng Sreng Boulevard.
Sopheak would give no details about that investigation yesterday, referring questions to Lour Ramin, a government official on the investigating committee. When contacted, Ramin referred questions back to Sopheak.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for rights group Licadho, said any investigation must focus on the disappearance of Saphath and bring to justice those who shot and killed the four victims.
“We should think about people who committed the crimes rather than attach it to politics and denying the victims’ families justice,” he said.
Ken Loo, secretary-general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia, could not be reached yesterday to confirm the damage bill for factories.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL