Bus Drivers Call Off Rally for Fear of Violence

A group of fired Capitol Tours bus drivers who were savagely beaten by a mob of angry tuk-tuk drivers during a protest in February called off a planned demonstration on Thursday for fear of fresh violence but vowed to continue their campaign against the company after the Khmer New Year holiday.

At least 14 people were injured when about 50 tuk-tuk drivers, wearing motorbike helmets and wielding a variety of crude weapons, descended on a similar number of former bus drivers and their supporters, who had staged a peaceful demonstration outside the Capitol Tours headquarters in Phnom Penh on the morning of February 6, according to rights group Licadho.

A protester is detained by police after being attacked by tuk-tuk drivers outside the Capitol Tours head office in Phnom Penh in February. (Satoshi Takahashi)
A protester is detained by police after being attacked by tuk-tuk drivers outside the Capitol Tours head office in Phnom Penh in February. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Police made no attempts to stop the attack but arrested a bus driver, Nan Vanna, and a labor activist, Ros Siphay, after the violence subsided. Subsequently jailed on three separate charges, they were released on bail on Wednesday.

On Thursday, more than 40 former bus drivers—who were dismissed, they say, for attempting to unionize—planned to hold their first protest since the incident, backed by some 500 activists from the Cambodia Transportation Workers Federation (CTWF) and the Cambodian Labor Confederation.

But before gathering in front of the Capitol Tours depot in Dangkao district in the morning, they met to discuss plans for the demonstration and decided to call it off, according to CTWF Secretary-General Ean Kimhun.

“We are temporarily suspending the protests because the two men were just released, so it’s too fast,” he said. “If we protest again, then they might face arrest.”

Mr. Kimhun said the protesters also feared further arrests.

“If we protest now, then they might arrest us,” he said. We don’t have any lawyer to help or support us,” he said.

Sim Sokha, a former Capitol Tours employee, said he and his colleagues were also afraid of being attacked again by the tuk-tuk drivers—who have claimed they only lashed out at the bus drivers because the protest was hurting their business—and wanted to wait until after the Khmer New Year holiday next week.

“We are worried about the tuk-tuk group,” he said. “If they beat us again, I think we could still be [arrested as] suspects.”

Moeun Tola, director of labor rights group Central, said he suspected that Capitol Tours had lobbied the Phnom Penh Municipal Court to order the arrest of Mr. Vanna and Mr. Siphay in order to intimidate the rest of the bus drivers.

“This is a tactic of the company; they used the court to arrest the driver—to make them scared of protesting,” he said.

Capitol Tours general manager Phan Sopheap dismissed the accusation.

“They were arrested because police think they saw them causing violence,” he said.

Ros Piseth, an investigating judge at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, declined to comment and hung up on a reporter.

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