Hopes fade for protest victims

Source: Khmer Times

A worker throws a petrol bomb after clashes broke out during a protest in Phnom Penh on January 4, 2014. Reuters

The father of a worker missing since the crackdown on the Veng Sreng street protests in 2014 said he has lost hope of finding his son alive after Prime Minister Hun Sen said the opposition party and not the government is not responsible for finding those lost.

Khem Sophat, who was born in Svay Rieng province’s Ang Taso commune, was a 16-year-old garment worker who took part in the 2014 protests demanding a $160 minimum wage in Phnom Penh.

The situation came to a head on January 3, 2014, when the government sent armed military police to Veng Sreng street, the epicentre of the protests and a road teeming with garment factories.

According to the government, four protesters were killed and more than 40 were injured during the ensuing violence.

However, human rights officials and workers who were there alleged that many more were killed, but their bodies were never found.

Mr Sophat’s father Khem Seourn, 43, said the families of victims feel hopeless since Mr Hun Sen washed his hands of responsibility for the incident at a meeting with workers last week. “When the Prime Minister announced the government is not responsible for finding my son, I felt really sorry and hopeless,” he said. He appealed to the government to change its stance on the issue.

“If my son died, I want to see his body. I hope the government thinks again and finds justice for my family,” he added.

According to the Prime Minister, the government is not responsible for the missing people because the opposition encouraged the workers to protest in the first place.

“They did not register the names of the protesters, but when they went missing, they demanded the government find them.

“This opposition party controlled the protest,” he told the meeting last week.

Vorn Pov, president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association labour group, which helped organise the protests, said the government should not absolve itself of accountability for the crackdown on workers.

“The government led forces to crack down on the workers. The government is responsible for finding people who went missing as a result,” he said.

The opposition CNRP could not be reached for comment.

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