Cambodia Erects Statue of Slain Labor Organizer

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Chea Vichea's statue in Phnom Penh after its unveiling on May, 3, 2013.
Chea Vichea's statue in Phnom Penh after its unveiling on May, 3, 2013.

Cambodia unveiled the statue of a slain popular labor union leader on Friday, nearly a decade after his assassination, in a rare show of recognition to a government critic.

Chea Vichea, founder of the Free Trade Union, was gunned down in broad daylight in the capital Phnom Penh in 2004, in a case seen as a symbol of the country’s culture of impunity.

Rights groups say his real killers remain at large although two people have been convicted of the murder.

His 2-meter (7-foot) stone statue, in a public garden near the newspaper stand where he was shot, was built and designed by the city government after receiving green light from Prime Minister Hun Sen, who has constantly been accused by human rights groups of various abuses.

Chea Mony, who succeeded Chea Vichea as head of the umbrella trade union group, said the government paid U.S. $5,000 for the statue, which reports say cost U.S. $8,000. The remaining sum came from workers’ contributions.

But Chea Mony said the statue in honor of his brother does not mean that justice had been served over the murder, and he called on the government to bring those behind the killing to justice.

“I constantly dream of learning who the real killers and those behind the killing are,” he told  RFA’s Khmer Service.

“Chea Vichea was not a traitor, but they killed him.”

Case 'closed'

Rights groups say the two men jailed over Chea Vichea's murder, who were arrested following an investigation plagued by irregularities, are scapegoats for the true killers.

Chea Vichea, who had close affiliations with an opposition party, was an outspoken campaigner for workers in the country’s lucrative garment industry, which has been at the heart of labor disputes and media scandals over low wages and conditions.

The statue depicts Chea Vichea with one hand raised and the other holding a microphone, as he would have done when leading a labor demonstration.

In December last year, an appeals court upheld the 20-year jail sentences imposed by a lower court on the two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, who have alleged they were framed by the police.

Ministry of the Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said Friday that the ministry’s own investigation was closed since the Phnom Penh court had handed over its verdict.

“We won’t have any more investigation on this because the court accepted the two suspects,” he told RFA, saying the ministry would reinvestigate the case only if there were a request from the court.

“The judge has that power according to the law,” he said.

Reported by Morm Moniroth for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.

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