PHNOM PENH —
Thousands of protesters in Svay Rieng province clashed with police Monday, as they continued a prolonged demonstration over the minimum wage in a special economic zone near the Vietnam border.
Riot police dispersed protesters with water canons. Protesters threw stones at police. At least a 50 people have been arrested and detained at the Svay Rieng police station.
The protests began Wednesday, after an announcement that the minimum wage would be raised from $128 per month to $140 per month.
Khun Sokhom, provincial coordinator for the Cambodian Labor Confederation, said the demonstration was prompted by the announcement of a minimum wage that was $8 below what factory managers had promised last year. “This is the reason behind the protest,” he said.
Keo Samorn, a 29-year-old garment worker, who took part in the strike on Monday, said authorities beat up protestors before putting them on the trucks and sending them to the provincial police headquarters.
Protests began Wednesday, with up to 20,000 workers taking part, said Khun Sokhom, an official at the Cambodian Labor Confederation. “They want to have a solution reached for them, since they have been protesting for a long time,” he said. (Provincial government spokesman Ros Pharith put the number much lower, at around 2,000 to 3,000.)
Authorities said Monday’s crackdown on protesters was to prevent violence and vandalism of factory property in the special economic zone.
Bavet Governor Seng Seila said workers were attempting to spread out across factory zones, wading through rice fields and throwing stones at factory buildings. “Police and military police have arrested some of them for questioning on what brought them to such actions,” he said.
Ros Pharith said the workers had been brought in for questioning and to “educate them. “If there’s any issue, it ought to be solved through peaceful negotiations,” he said. “Don’t use such violence.”
Svay Rieng Governor Chieng Am told VOA Khmer late Monday that 48 protesters had been released after about four hours of questioning. “They promised that they will not do protests any more,” he said.
However, Nuth Bopinnaroth, provincial coordinator for the rights group Licadho, who monitored the protests, said most of those arrested were not actually taking part in the demonstrations.
“According to what we have seen and what they [protestors] have said, some of them did not commit any crime over there, but the authorities just arrested them,” he said.
“The authorities didn’t even let the families of the arrested bring food for them at lunch time. This affects their rights, because they didn't do anything wrong and were denied meeting and food. The authorities didn’t even let the family or myself stay near the detainees.”
At least four protesters who were arrested last week remain in detention, on charges of property destruction and incitement.