Groups of garment workers poured out of factories in Phnom Penh and around the country Wednesday to demand a “living” monthly minimum wage of $177 for the industry, joined by supporters picketing outside embassies and brand shops in Australia and Europe.
At least five people are dead after police opened fire on hundreds of protesters blocking a street at Canadia Industrial Park in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district, a human rights worker said Friday afternoon.
“I witnessed myself three people killed, but police I spoke to told me that at least five have been killed and 22 are injured,” said Chan Soveth, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc.
Earlier Friday, police confirmed three people had been killed.
“So far, three are confirmed dead, two injured and two men were arrested by armed forces,” Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Chuon Narin said shortly after the incident at about 10 a.m.
Hundreds of young men and some women armed with sticks, rocks and Molotov cocktails confronted military police armed with AK-47s, riot shields and batons on Friday, following a night of fighting between both sides at the same location.
Barricades continued to burn and rubble was strewn across the road as both sides continued to clash Friday morning and afternoon. A medical clinic was destroyed by the demonstrators—mostly striking garment factory workers—allegedly because the clinic had refused to treat those injured by military police gunfire.
Hundreds of military police are deployed near the entrance of the Canadia Industrial Park, which is the center of the ongoing conflict, and pitched battles continued with military police unable to contain the rioting.
Reports from Thursday night and early Friday morning were that the demonstrators beat back several police assaults to restore order in the area.
According to witnesses, military police gunfire from AK-47 assault rifles was sustained and targeted. Gunshots continued to ring out Friday afternoon. Bullet holes could be seen on the upper floors of an apartment building housing garment factory workers.
Major General Roth Srieng, commander of the Phnom Penh Municipal Military Police, defended the killing of the three people. “We cannot allow them to block the road and we have to crack down on them,” Maj. Gen. Srieng said. “We have no choice.”
More than a dozen injured people were being treated at Khmer-Soviet Friendship Hospital on Friday afternoon.
Heng Chantha, 26, said at the hospital that her brother-in-law, Kim Phaleap, 26, had been shot dead. “My brother-in-law died after being shot in the back. The bullet exited through his chest,” she said.
Uk Mara, a student who was at the hospital, said a bullet had grazed the back of her head when she had passed by the protest. “It’s very brutal, and the bullet shot by police forces hit my head at the back,” the 17-year-old said. “I would have been killed if I didn’t lower my head.”
Last night, military police tried to break up a strike of thousands of striking garment factory workers who have been demanding higher wages at the Canadia Industrial Park.
According to Bun Van, head of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers Democratic Union, more than 200 military police had moved in with batons, shields and rifles, injuring about 10 workers.
(Additional reporting by Kuch Naren)
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