German sportswear giant PUMA said Tuesday that it will send staff members to investigate a shooting outside the premises of a factory of one of its footwear suppliers in Cambodia which left three female workers injured, one critically.
The shooting occurred Monday in southeastern Svay Rieng province, when a gunman opened fire on nearly 1,000 workers from three different factories protesting for better working conditions. The gunman escaped from the scene, despite a heavy police presence.
The three wounded women were employees of the Kaoway Sports Ltd. factory, located in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Bavet city.
“PUMA has stepped up its resources in the country, with senior executives investigating the circumstances of the incident,” the sportswear firm said in a statement Tuesday, adding that a PUMA official would accompany a rights group to discuss the event with one of the injured workers.
The company also said it would host meetings with government and nongovernmental organizations as well as trade unions on Tuesday and Wednesday to discuss workers’ grievances in order to ensure their safety and well-being.
A separate statement released by PUMA on Feb. 20 quoted a Kaoway Sport Ltd. as saying that the factory complied with Cambodian labor laws and regulations regarding wages.
The statement said the shooting occurred as protesting workers congregated in an area outside the Kaoway plant and adjacent to the Kingmaker and Sheico factories.
Kaoway said workers had thrown rocks at the factory and set fire to various parts of the building in an act of vandalism and plunder. It made no mention of who was responsible for the shooting or why the gunman shot at protesters.
Local rights groups said protesters had been demanding that management of the zone’s three factories raise their monthly wages by U.S. $10 per month to U.S. $71.
Svay Rieng Provincial Governor Chieng Am said Tuesday that police were not involved in the shooting, although he was unclear of who was responsible.
“The police didn’t shoot. The bullets we found did not belong to the police. Police are equipped with AK-47s and the bullets are not from an AK-47.”
He added that police are searching for the suspect.
A worker and witness to the shooting told RFA on Tuesday that the gunman was dressed in a bodyguard uniform as he got out of his car and opened fire.
“I don’t know whether he was a policeman, but he was dressed like a bodyguard,” she said.
The three female employees, aged 18 to 23, were all treated at a nearby hospital for upper body wounds. One victim remains in critical condition with a severe chest wound.
Cambodian rights groups LICADHO and Community Legal Education Center said witnesses saw military police at the scene fire their automatic weapons into the air immediately following the shooting, but the gunman was able to escape despite the large presence of security.
LICADHO Senior investigator Am Sam Ath called the shooting “an attempt of premeditated murder.”
“Reports indicate that the gunman shot directly at the protesting workers. There can be no question that such actions constitute premeditation and intent to kill, according to the penal code.”
Following the shooting incident, Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Interior Sar Kheng ordered Cambodia’s National Police Commissioner to prevent police officers from using weapons in response to protests and demonstrations.
He added that the use of shields and electric batons by police during land protests and worker demonstrations was acceptable.
Sar Kheng, who spoke to provincial and municipal police chiefs during a workshop Tuesday, said police must conduction investigations into all shooting incidents in a neutral manner, without showing bias towards involved companies.
“We must make the interests of the people our first priority, but we must also protect investment. We have no right to shoot at people—please understand this, provincial governors.”
According to rights groups, there have been at least five incidents of armed guards, including police and military police officers, firing at villagers in land disputes in five separate provinces over the last few months.
Rights groups on Tuesday released a joint statement urging Cambodian authorities to conduct an investigation into the latest shooting.
“We also urge the buyers of goods produced by these factories, PUMA in particular, to cease relying on the biased information supplied by the factories themselves and to send a team of investigators to conduct their own reviews of the incidents,” the statement read.
“All buyers involved in Cambodia must make it clear to both the factories and the government that such violence is unacceptable and will have serious consequences.”
Reported for RFA’s Khmer service by Neang Ieng, To Serey and Samean Yun. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.