Cambodian riot police prepare to confront with garment workers near a factory on the Stung Meanchey complex on the outskirts of Phnom Penh, Cambodia last week. Pic: AP.

Enforcers out to kill on streets of Phnom Penh, writes Asia Sentinel’s James Pringle

The iron fist of Cambodia’s long-ruling Communist Party has smashed into its political foes in the past few days, ending a confused and discordant state of affairs during which an opposition party seemed to write the agenda by calling on Prime Minister Hun Sein to resign or call a fresh election, after an allegedly flawed one last July.

Hun Sen, in power for 28 years and fresh from a visit in the last days of December to what many call his political mentors in neighboring Vietnam, late last week ordered violent action against political opponents and striking textile workers who had called on him to step down, and for a decent minimal wage to be paid.

His enforcers, military police and paratroops, shot and killed five demonstrating textile workers, who were asking for a pay raise on their US$2.80 a day pay, enough to buy a bowl of noodles and coconut dessert in the teeming Central Market. Why the troops could not have used non-lethal teargas or rubber bullets, which they have, instead of the automatic weapons developed by the recently late deceased Mikhail Kalashnikov is not apparent. They obviously wanted to kill.

Earlier, before he left for Vietnam – Hun Sen speaks the Vietnamese language fluently, having defected to the still-communist neighbors after abandoning the Khmer Rouge in the late 1970s – he had said he would under no circumstances resign or call another election during his five-year tenure. But then he made a tactical error. “But one more thing,” he added.

“Calling for me to step down – what have I done wrong?”

What an opening for the opposition who have been boycotting the national assembly! How about political assassinations of foes in the past, the sell-off of land to Russian, Chinese, Vietnamese and Korean investors on 99 year leases, pushing the little people off their their meager land – land-grabbing – kleptocracy and nepotism, sharing the spoils of the country to his extended family and cronies. Burning down or axing the forests, killing a large part of the once plentiful wildlife, and killing, too, those resisting the destruction.

“Ï was elected by the constitution, so I would only step down by the constitution,” Hun Sen said the other day, while flaunting on his lapel the badge of his ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CCP), the old communist party here, which has as its motif, these days a Buddhist apsara or angel.

The 61 year old premier took violent action by activating his bloodyminded soldiery and police, which led to the deaths of the five union protesters last Friday, and the smashing up in a kind of mini Tiananmen Square pro-democracy demonstration last Saturday, the encampment of opposition supporters at Freedom Park, effectively putting on hold all action against alleged fraudulent elections in July, in which the opposition Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP), lost by a narrow margin of 55 seats to 68, out of the 123 seats in the National Assembly.

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