PHNOM PENH (Reuters) – At least three people were killed on Friday when Cambodian military police opened fire to try to quell a protest by garment factory workers, two witnesses said.
Two human rights workers who witnessed the chaos said three or four protesters had been killed as security forces armed with assault rifles and pistols shot at demonstrators who hurled rocks, bottles and petrol bombs outside a factory in the capital, Phnom Penh.
The workers are among 350,000 on strike, demanding higher pay.
Military police spokesman Kheng Tito said only one was killed and several were wounded.
“We’re just following our duty, role and tasks. Now we are securing the situation,” he said.
Several striking Cambodian garment workers were killed when police opened fired during a confrontation with the protesters, witnesses said.
An Associated Press photographer and human rights workers said police fired AK-47 rifles after several hundred workers blocking a road south of the capital Phnom Penh began burning tires and throwing objects at them. Several wounded workers could be seen after the shots were fired.
Chan Soveth of the human-rights group Adhoc said one person was killed and at least five wounded, but the death could not be immediately confirmed by officials or medical authorities.
The workers are part of a nationwide strike demanding a doubling of the minimum wage to $160 a month.
About 500,000 Cambodian are employed in the garment industry, the country’s biggest export earner. The government has offered $100 a month.
A day earlier Cambodian soldiers forcefully quelled a separate demonstration by striking workers, detaining Buddhist monks and labour leaders.
The violence comes at a time of political stress, as the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party has protested daily against the prime minister, Hun Sen, calling on him to step down and call elections. Hun Sen won elections last July that extended his 28-year rule, but protesters led by opposition head Sam Rainsy accuse him of rigging the vote. Hun Sen has rejected their demand.
Although the wage and election issues are not directly linked, Cambodia’s opposition has had long and close ties with the country’s labour movement.