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Rights Groups Say Government Responsible for Protest Violence

A Cambodian Buddhist monk, center top, helps an injured worker, center bottom, beaten by riot police inside a Buddhist pagoda in Phnom Penh, Cambodia, Tuesday, Nov. 12, 2013. Cambodian police have fired live ammunition at protesting garment workers outside the capital, injuring at least six protesters and killing a bystander. The human rights group Licadho says hundreds of workers from the SL Garment Processing (Cambodia) Ltd. Factory clashed Tuesday with about 1,000 riot police sent to block a march from the factory to the Phnom Penh residence of Prime Minister Hun Sen. (AP Photo)

WASHINGTON DC - Union leaders and rights workers say the shooting death of a woman outside a factory worker protest needs to be investigated, along with the government’s inability to address workers’ grievances.

The authorities should also be held responsible for any violence related to clashes between police and protesting workers of the SL Garment factory earlier this month, said Rong Chhun, head of the Cambodian Confederation of Unions.

Rong Chhun said the government failed to address the concerns of workers, prolonging the problem until “violence erupted,” leading to major clashes, and the shooting, which left one street vendor dead after she was struck in the chest by a bullet.

Workers were demanding better wages, the right to assemble and long-term contracts, but the company has ignored calls from Prime Minister Hun Sen to negotiate with them, Rong Chhun said.

Government spokesman Phay Siphan said the matter should be handled in the courts and that third parties encouraged workers to become violent against police and security forces.

Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, said the protest came only after workers saw no solution to their grievances for a prolonged period.

“It’s the responsibility of the government entirely,” he said. “Why does the government not take responsibility over its workers?”

Poor working conditions and wages are forcing Cambodians to seek jobs abroad, he said, where they are subject to abuse and have little protection.

Meanwhile, two workers who were detained and held after the protest are now facing court action, Chan Soveth said. On Thursday the two were summoned before the court for destruction of property.