The 35th anniversary of the victory over the Khmer Rouge regime was celebrated today in a tense calm in Cambodia after the violent crackdown on unionist strikes and opposition’s manifestation in the capital last weekend.
The already traditional January 7 date (Prampi Makara) has its main celebrations in Phnom Penh where Primer Minister Hun Sen appears with his allies to give a speech recounting the historical moments when Vietnamese troops and Khmer Rouge defectors defeated the Pol Pot regime on January 7, 1979, starting a new civil war until the signing of the Paris Peace Agreement of October 23, 1991.
This year there was not much popular affection for this date, especially among youth, workers and followers of the opposition party. The government opted to crackdown on strikers demanding a minimum monthly wage of US$160, the same promised by the opposition party of Sam Rainsy in the run up to the elections in July last year. The government increased it to US$100, but workers continued the strike until last Friday when hundreds of members of the police and armed forces launched a violent crackdown, killing at least five people.
Many protesters were arrested, among them three human rights defenders and a boy, Yon Chea, 17 years old. Licadho, the Cambodian human rights watcher, denounced the secrecy in the whereabouts of these persons. (Licadho, 2014) The official crackdown did not stop with the strikes: Saturday morning it reached Freedom Park where the Opposition led a rally demanding the resignation of Primer Minister Hun Sen and the holding of new elections. The followers of the Cambodian National Rescue Party (CNRP) were evicted from the area, including Buddhist monks. (Licadho, 2014, video)
Factories resumed operations on Monday with an average 65% of workers returning to their jobs, according to Ken Loo, secretary general of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia in an email reply to Asian Correspondent:
The situation currently is that all factories have resumed operations… Although we are not at full attendance, but on average 65% of workers have returned to work on Monday. We are confident that most workers will return to their workplace within the next few days when they have confidence that the government is able to ensure their personal safety.
The clash between the intervention forces and the rioters occurred because the rioters had failed to listen to verbal warnings and further engaged in violent activities including attacking the authorities and destroying private property. There were no problems when the demonstration had been peaceful.