At least one woman died when police opened fire with live ammunition amid intense rioting in the capital’s Stung Meanchey district this morning, during what began as a march of striking garment workers attempting to reach the prime minister’s house.
Hundreds of employees at SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd. making their way from the Meanchey district factory were met by riot police and fire trucks near the Stung Meanchey bridge – the site of a similar conflagration on election day in July.
The march was planned to commemorate the three-month anniversary of about 5,000 workers striking at SL.
At about 9:30am, a man – who the Post has not confirmed is a representative for the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) – gave an order over a bull horn, at which point he and more than 100 protesters rushed the police.
A growing number of protesters hurled rocks and bricks at the police as they fired water cannons into the crowd in response.
Police retreated to the other side of the bridge, leaving at least three officers behind in the Stung Meanchey pagoda complex. One was seen fleeing his police truck as protesters surrounded it and pelted it with rocks, while the other two took refuge in a pagoda building.
As demonstrators rolled the abandoned police vehicle into the street, turning it over and setting it ablaze, a crowd gathered in front of the building that had police holed up inside.
Monks, who initially kept rock-throwing demonstrators out of the building, were ultimately unsuccessful. United Nations peace-keeping officials entered the small building, where the two officers were now hiding inside a small, locked room after demonstrators stripped them of their shields, batons and body armour.
At about 10:30am, police advanced across the bridge, shooting tear gas, rubber bullets and live ammunition into the crowd of hundreds.
Vong Voleak, 23, wept across the street from the pagoda after the onslaught. Her mother, Eng Sokhom, 49, died of a gunshot wound, she said.
At Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital, where Sokhom was rushed, her husband confirmed that she had died.
While the total number of those injured by gunfire remains unconfirmed, a Post reporter at the hospital was shown an X-ray showing a bullet lodged inside one of the wounded brought from the scene of the riot. Hospital staff said they were caring for three shooting victims at their facility.
Toak Tin, a monk at the Stung Meanchey pagoda, told the Post he personally witnessed at least two men shot, one above the hip and one in the upper-thigh area. Both men were also rushed to the hospital, he added.
At least six men were arrested inside the pagoda, and two were beat heavily by police as they were dragged out.
By noon, protesters had dispersed and traffic went by as if nothing had happened.
Phnom Penh Municipal police commissioner Lieutenant General Choun Sovann declined to comment on how many people were injured or arrested.
After the riot, Kong Athit, C.CAWDU’s vice president, decried the police response to, what he said, was supposed to be a peaceful march.
“We are quite unhappy about it, because the way the police responded, it’s not responsible, it’s not professional... they used real guns,” Athit, who was not at the riot, said in a phone interview. “We can walk where we want peacefully and go where we want to go... why did police attack us?”