Cambodian Crackdown

The first days of 2014 were some of the most dramatic in recent Cambodian history. Not since 1998 had the country seen such violence. Wide-spread and large-scale protests, combined with strong anti-government sentiments, created a powder keg environments – and the police crackdown on garment factory workers, and others protesting on their behalf, was the spark that set it all off.

On January 2nd, a standoff between striking factory workers and members of the Cambodian army’s 911 Airborne Unit erupted into a sudden and unexpected street battle, which ended with the arrest of 10 protestors – including monks and union leaders. Several hours later, police forces aggressively dispersed a similar demonstration across town at the Canadia garment factory, reportedly beating several of the female protestors.

In response, residents of the area surrounding the factory blockaded the roads leading into the neighbourhood and started street fires – refusing to leave until hundreds of police stormed the area. Though the street was cleared without heavy resistance, the more militant protestors occupied a large apartment building nearby.

A siege situation developed and lasted late into the night. During repeated attempts to storm the structure, several police officers were injured. Ultimately the police were unable to clear the protestors from their stronghold and returned to their base, but the stage had been set for what was to come.

Early on the morning of January 3rd, the protestors returned to man their barricades. Police arrived to retake the area, this time firing live rounds rather than wielding rubber batons. At least four people were killed – with some estimates as high as six. Though the main body of resistance was broken, smaller groups faced off against police and Special Forces units throughout the morning.

On January 4th, seemingly intent on preventing any further protest, police surrounded Freedom Park, the major rallying point for the Cambodian National Rescue Party – the main opposition party. Uniformed officers and plain clothed citizens, armed with wooden rods and pieces of rebar, forced CNRP supporters – largely comprised of rural seniors – out of the park. For the next hour they destroyed the tents and stage that had been host to daily rallies since October.

The long-ruling CPP has decided to decisively stamp out its opposition and the future of Cambodian democracy is uncertain.

Striking garment factory workers and the Cambodian army's 911 Airborne unit face off. Garment workers across Cambodia have been engaged in a long-running campaign for wage increases, which has been rejected by the government.

Striking garment factory workers and the Cambodian army’s 911 Airborne unit face off. Garment workers across Cambodia have been engaged in a long-running campaign for wage increases, which has been rejected by the government.

Special Forces soldiers from the 911 Airborne unit beat an observer from a non-profit organization after a stand off between the military and striking garment workers errupted into violence.

Special Forces soldiers from the 911 Airborne unit beat an observer from a non-profit organization after a stand off between the military and striking garment workers errupted into violence.

A truck driver is stuck in traffic as demonstrators in support of striking garment workers block National Highway 4.

A truck driver is stuck in traffic as demonstrators in support of striking garment workers block National Highway 4.

Protestors pile debris to create barricades against police following a violent crackdown on garment factory workers requesting a wage increase.

Protestors pile debris to create barricades against police following a violent crackdown on garment factory workers requesting a wage increase.

Protestors burn a wooden cart near the Canadia garment factory. People in support of striking garment workers attempted to fortify their neighbourhood in anticipation of the police or military response.

Protestors burn a wooden cart near the Canadia garment factory. People in support of striking garment workers attempted to fortify their neighbourhood in anticipation of the police or military response.

Police charge a protestor-held street after a standoff lasting several hours.

Police charge a protestor-held street after a standoff lasting several hours.

Police attempt to storm a building occupied by protestors following a violent crackdown on striking garment workers, who were demanding a wage increase.

Police attempt to storm a building occupied by protestors following a violent crackdown on striking garment workers, who were demanding a wage increase.

Police fire tear gas at a building occupied by protestors.

Police fire tear gas at a building occupied by protestors.

A protestor waves the Cambodian flag while police attempt to clear the area.

A protestor waves the Cambodian flag while police attempt to clear the area.

Protestors near the Canadia garment factory during a police incursion into the area.

Protestors near the Canadia garment factory during a police incursion into the area.

Protestors carry objects out of a nearby medical clinic to be used as fuel for street fires.

Protestors carry objects out of a nearby medical clinic to be used as fuel for street fires.

A wounded man is carried out of the battlefield after being shot by police.

A wounded man is carried out of the battlefield after being shot by police.

Soldiers sit outside a medical clinic after retaking the area from protestors.

Soldiers sit outside a medical clinic after retaking the area from protestors.

Ashes coat the road in front of the Canadia garment factory the morning after police and military forces recaptured the area from protestors.

Ashes coat the road in front of the Canadia garment factory the morning after police and military forces recaptured the area from protestors.

The mostly empty houses inside the Canadia garment factory. An estimated 80% of workers fled the area in fear of further persecution.

The mostly empty houses inside the Canadia garment factory. An estimated 80% of workers fled the area in fear of further persecution.

Police and plainclothes CPP supporters charge into Freedom Park, the main rallying point for opposition party events.

Police and plainclothes CPP supporters charge into Freedom Park, the main rallying point for opposition party events.

People flee Freedom Park. A mixture of police and plainclothes CPP supporters charged the area, weilding batons, clubs, and pieces of rebar, declaring the area closed for all demstrations for a period of three days.

People flee Freedom Park. A mixture of police and plainclothes CPP supporters charged the area, weilding batons, clubs, and pieces of rebar, declaring the area closed for all demstrations for a period of three days.

CPP supporters tear down the tents and other temporary facilities which have been standing in Freedom Park since December.

CPP supporters tear down the tents and other temporary facilities which have been standing in Freedom Park since December.

A CPP supporter prepares to strike an image of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, the leaders of the Cambodian National Rescue Party - the main opposition to the government.

A CPP supporter prepares to strike an image of Sam Rainsy and Kem Sokha, the leaders of the Cambodian National Rescue Party – the main opposition to the government.