At least three policemen and nine factory workers were wounded in a clash Tuesday, human rights officials and witnesses said.
A human rights worker said violence erupted during a demonstration in front of the factory of Cambodia Apparel, in Kampong Speu province, when two trucks full of police arrived to disperse demonstrating workers.
By 10 am, workers and police were scuffling, leading to the injuries, witnesses said. Cambodia’s turbulent garment industry has seen several violent conflicts in recent weeks.
Cambodia Center for Human Rights investigator Chhim Savuth said the workers were demonstrating peacefully before the police arrived, though workers were suspected of seeking to steal merchandise.
The police were led by Kampong Speu police chief and “assaulted the workers,” he said.
“There was a scuffle right away,” Chhim Savuth said. Kampong Speu Deputy Police Chief Sam Samuon said the workers assaulted police first, by throwing rocks at them.
At least three police were hurt, he said, adding that some of the instigators of the protest did not work at the factory.
“More than 10 strikers came from Phnom Penh to create violence,” he said. “We are conducting research. If the strikers are from Cambodia Apparel factory, it is all right that they had a strike. But now a number of people are from Phnom Penh, or are brought here from other factories, to incite the people to strike.”
Workers have been on strike since Jan. 2 to demand deposits and restitution for three Cambodian labor leaders allegedly fired without reason.
Cambodia Apparel administration chief Un Heang could not be reached for comment.
Chea Saly, a Cambodia Apparel worker said a number of people had been “bought” to disperse the strikers.
“I appeal to all the institutions and the government to pay attention to the workers,” Chea Saly said. “Workers want to work if there are jobs. But if their company puts pressure on them until they cannot take it any more, there will be strikes, and strikes are not wrong.”