Thursday, January 22, 2009

Cambodia opposition seeks Obama's help in murder probe

Cambodians remember the 5th anniversary of the death of labour leader Chea Vichea (Photo: AFP)

Thursday, January 22, 2009

PHNOM PENH (AFP) — Cambodia's opposition leader Thursday urged US President Barack Obama to help find the killers of a prominent union boss, as hundreds of people gathered to mark five years since his murder.
Chea Vichea, who headed the country's largest labour union and was a vocal critic of Prime Minister Hun Sen's government, was gunned down at a Phnom Penh newsstand on January 22, 2004.

The daylight murder shocked Cambodia and badly fractured the country's nascent workers' movement. It was condemned by rights groups as a brutal attempt to silence opposition-linked unions.

"I beg US President Barack Obama to help Cambodian people find the criminals to bring them to justice," opposition leader Sam Rainsy told a crowd Thursday at the spot where Chea Vichea was shot.

The politician marched through Phnom Penh with some 300 garment workers and unionists to place wreaths and light incense sticks at the newsstand.

Sam Rainsy criticised authorities for failing to arrest the real culprits, but said he hoped that a "push from outside" would bring "change" in the case of Chea Vichea's murder over the next year.

Cambodia's highest court late last month provisionally released two men convicted of killing Chea Vichea and ordered the case to be re-tried, citing unclear evidence.

The two men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, had been arrested just days after the union chief's 2004 death, convicted of murder and quickly sentenced to 20 years each in prison.

The United States and UN welcomed the decision by the court to order a retrial. International and local rights watchdogs had called the conviction and trial deeply flawed and said the true perpetrators remained at large.

But two other labour leaders have also been murdered since Chea Vichea's killing, in an escalation of attacks against workers' rights advocates.

Their deaths cast a pall over Cambodia's key garment industry, with several major clothing labels warning the government that swift justice was needed for their continued presence in the country.


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