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Father Gives Up Search for Son Lost in Protest Crackdown

It has been nearly two weeks since Khim Soeun last heard of his son, Khim Sophat, a 16-year-old boy caught up in demonstrations earlier this month.

The family has already held a funeral for him in Svay Rieng province, but Khim Souen did not give up hope of finding him somehow in Phnom Penh.

On Wednesday, though, Khim Soeun said he was giving up and returning home.

“I have looked for him in many hospitals and pagodas, but I have not found him,” his father told VOA Khmer. He will not file a suit with the courts, but he has given up hope, he said.

Khim Sophat, whose nickname was Pig, came to work at a garment factory with his older sister more than one year ago, to help her support their impoverished family.

He joined in demonstrations earlier this month amid workers calling for an increase in the minimum wage, to $160 per month. Those protests turned violent, with armed police moving in to stop demonstrators. Rights workers and witnesses say that on Jan. 3 police fired live ammunition directly into the crowd of workers. Witnesses say Khim Sophat was in the line of fire.

“I didn’t know him, but when we were standing together, he was shot and seriously wounded,” said Khat Sreyrath, a 25-year-old factory worker. “Myself and another man tried to cary him away, but he was too heavy, and we just couldn’t. He asked us to run away.”

Khat Sreyrath hid in a small shop nearby. “When I looked through a small spot in the door, I saw the military take him away in a military truck.”

Khim Sophat’s name was nowhere on the list of 23 detainees, and he has not been listed among the dead, said Am Sam Ath, lead investigator for the rights group Adhoc. Without a body, he is not yet presumed dead, Am Sam Ath said.

Rath Sreang, a police general who led the crackdown, declined to comment, referring questions to Kheng Tito, a spokesman for the national police.

“Our authorities are not that inhumane, because this would be serious misconduct,” Kheng Tito said. “If eye witnesses really saw this, they should give evidence to the court. If they just talk, who will believe them?”