Cambodian authorities have threatened to take action against workers' unions and nongovernmental organizations planning to hold a May 1 Labor Day rally at Freedom Park, the capital’s designated protest space which has been kept off limits to gatherings with political undertones most of this year.
“The authorities would not give permission because it would affect our security,” Ministry of Interior spokesman Khieu Sopheak said.
“If they are stubborn, they have to bear the consequences” and “be responsible before the law,” he said, indicating that force may be used to disperse any gathering at Freedom Park on May 1.
“The past event on Veng Sreng Street led to a loss of lives and properties without anyone taking responsibility and if they continue to hold the gathering, it means it is illegal and I warn them,” Khieu Sopheak said.
He was referring to the January 3 government crackdown on garment workers’ strikes along the factory-lined Veng Sreng Street that left five people dead and nearly 40 wounded.
A day after the crackdown, when security forces opened fire on protesters, police violently dispersed opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP)-led mass demonstrations in Freedom Park.
No major gathering has been allowed since then at the park, which had become a bastion of opposition protests calling for Prime Minister Hun Sen’s resignation following disputed elections in July last year.
About 20 unions had requested permission from the Phnom Penh City Hall to hold the Labor Day gathering at Freedom Park, but their applications have been rejected, union officials said.
However, the unions and several NGOs have vowed to proceed with the event which they said is expected to be attended by about 5,000 people.
“Even though the Ministry of Interior doesn’t allow us, our stand is that we will gather at Freedom Park,” said Sva Saly, President of the National Union Alliance, among the unions that had made a bid to organize the event.
City Hall spokesman Long Dymong said the authorities did not allow the Labor Day event at the park because they were still investigating the January violence at the venue.
Strike for bonus
Meanwhile about 39 garment factories in the Svay Rieng special economic zone closed their premises following a strike by about 30,000 workers to back demands for a U.S. $50 bonus.
Provincial Labor Department Director Ou Sokoeun said the workers have been on strike since April 19.
Collective Union of Movement of Workers officer Meas Sokna said the workers, who had stayed at home, intended to go on strike at their factories but the authorities had prevented drivers from picking them up to work.
Workers want the bonus for shunning walkouts over the last three months, union officials said, citing a couple of factories that had rewarded employees for not participating in previous strikes, but an umbrella group for garment factory owners has denied the claim.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.