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Friday, March 02, 2012

Governor Arrested as Shooting Suspect

Cambodian authorities say the official is likely behind the incident that left three workers hospitalized.

The governor of a city in southeastern Cambodia was arrested Friday in connection with a shooting that left three workers hospitalized as they took part in protests for better labor conditions at a sportswear factory that supplies goods to German sportswear giant PUMA.

Moeun Tola, head of the labor program at Cambodian NGO Community Legal Education Center, confirmed the arrest of Chhouk Bandit, governor of Svay Rieng province’s Bavet city where the shooting took place last month.

“Chhouk Bandit was arrested near the Vietnamese border,” said Moeun Tola, who had been assigned along with a PUMA executive official to investigate the incident.

“Police from the Ministry of Interior arrested him at 5:00 p.m. [on Friday]. I applaud the police for their work in the arrest and urge the authorities to bring the perpetrator of this crime to justice.”

The arrest comes one day after Minister of Interior Sar Kheng told reporters that police suspected Chhouk Bandit as the culprit.

Protest shooting
The shooting incident took place on Feb. 20 outside the premises of the Kaoway Sports Ltd. factory, located in the Manhattan Special Economic Zone (SEZ) in Bavet city, leaving three female workers injured, one critically.

An unidentified gunman dressed as a bodyguard opened fire on nearly 1,000 workers from three different factories who had been protesting for better working conditions, but escaped from the scene despite a heavy police presence.

Sportswear giant PUMA, which is one of the factory’s main purchasers, pledged to investigate and sent an official to accompany Moeun Tola 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 to discuss workers’ grievances in order to ensure their safety and well-being.

Kaoway officials 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.

The three female employees, aged 18 to 23, were all treated at a nearby hospital for upper body wounds.

Following the shooting incident, 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.

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.
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