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Cablegate: A Violent Weekend in Cambodia: Popular Singer

VZCZCXRO8286
OO RUEHHM RUEHJO
DE RUEHPF #0318/01 0580115
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
O 270115Z FEB 07
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC IMMEDIATE 8073
INFO RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA IMMEDIATE 1576
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC PRIORITY
RUEHXI/LABOR COLLECTIVE

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000318

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL/ILCSR--MARK MITTELHAUSER, AND
EB/TPP/ABT/BTT--THOMAS LERSTEN
GENEVA FOR LABOR ATTACHE JOHN CHAMBERLIN
LABOR FOR ILAB--JIM SHEA, ZHAO LI, BILL BRUMFIELD, AND JONA
LAI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM KJUS ELAB KTEX CB
SUBJECT: A VIOLENT WEEKEND IN CAMBODIA: POPULAR SINGER
SHOT; UNION LEADER KILLED

1. (SBU) Summary. On February 23, popular singer Pov
Panhapich was shot by an unidentified gunman and later
evacuated to Vietnam for medical treatment. She is in stable
condition, and media reports speculate that she was linked
romantically to a high-level RGC official and vengeance may
have been the motive. In a separate incident, the president
of a factory-level union loosely affiliated with the
opposition Sam Rainsy Party was gunned down on February 24.
FTU President Chea Mony accused a rival union of
responsibility, but there is no evidence linking anyone to
the crime. Police admit that robbery was not a motive in
either case; civil society organizations compared these
recent attacks to previous unsolved killings of female
entertainers and union activists, noting that in all
instances the government security services failed to identify
those responsible. End Summary.

Famous Singer Shot by Unidentified Gunman
-----------------------------------------

2. (U) At roughly 0630 on Friday, February 23, an
unidentified gunman shot popular singer and television
personality Pov Panhapich as she left her parked car and
walked to a local school. The gunman, who was riding a
motorcycle, shot the singer two times at close range, and
then fled on the motorcycle. Witnesses claimed that another
motorcycle with two men appeared to have accompanied the
gunman, and left the scene at the same time. Initially taken
to a local hospital, the singer was transferred to Vietnam
for medical treatment. She is reported to be in stable
condition, but there are concerns regarding her long-term
prognosis, according to press reports.

3. (SBU) Unidentified relatives of the injured singer told
the press that Pov Panhapich received telephone threats prior
to the shooting. Rumors suggest that the entertainer was
romantically linked to a high-level government official, and
National Police Commissioner Hok Lundy has been named as a
possible love interest. Police have ruled out robbery as a
motive, given that nothing was stolen from the young singer
when the gunman fled the scene.

4. (SBU) Cambodia's entertainment sector has been plagued
with other attacks on female singers. One of Cambodia's most
popular actresses and classical dancers, Piseth Pilika, died
in 1999 after being shot and killed. Rumored at the time to
be PM Hun Sen's mistress, many observers speculated that Hun
Sen's wife was behind the actress's death. Touch Srey Nich,
a female singer, was shot and paralyzed from the neck down in
2003; her mother died in the same attack. Another young
singer, Tat Marina, suffered an acid attack in 2000; the wife
of a high-ranking government official and her two bodyguards
were implicated in the affair. In all these cases, no one
has ever been charged with the crime. The two latter victims
relocated to the United States.

Union Leader Shot and Killed
----------------------------

5. (U) At approximately 0515 on February 24, two
unidentified men on a motorcycle shot Free Trade Union (FTU)
factory-level union leader Hy Vuthy, age 36, three times
before escaping. Vuthy was about one mile from the factory
on his way home after working the nightshift. Police have
not made any arrests but have ruled out robbery as a motive
because Vuthy's motorcycle was not stolen. On February 20,
Vuthy had written to factory management asking for an
additional day off in celebration of Khmer New Year in April.
The FTU reported that two Cambodian Union Federation leaders
had angrily approached Vuthy the next day and rebuked him for
sending the letter.

6. (SBU) On Sunday, FTU national president Chea Mony called
a meeting of all factory-level union leaders to discuss the
killing. Mony exhorted the government to investigate the
case. Noting that three other FTU leaders have been killed
since 2003, he called on the government to stop the killings
of union leaders, threatening to lead a general strike or
public protest if another union leader is killed. (Comment:
Mony told us privately that he has no plans to take any
action until after local elections are held on April 1. End
Comment.) Mony also reminded union leaders of their need to
behave honestly and to serve the workers, noting that

PHNOM PENH 00000318 002 OF 002


corruption fueled many labor problems.

7. (SBU) Bright Sky and Suntex, two factories sharing an
owner and a compound, have been the site of Cambodia's worst
labor violence in the past year. Together, the two factories
lost more than 30,000 working days due to seven separate
strikes in 2006, accounting for nearly 10% of all working
days lost in the entire garment industry. In October 2006, a
dispute turned violent when anti-riot police shot into the
air to disperse illegal strikers; a bullet reportedly struck
a garment worker from a neighboring factory. Scores of other
workers reported that they had been beaten by police, some
with electric batons. In response, Bright Sky permanently
closed its night shift in November, saying privately that
nightshift workers were responsible for a disproportionate
share of labor unrest. The Suntex nightshift remained open.


Comment
-------

8. (SBU) This past weekend's shootings were a chilling
reminder of past violent crimes that remain unsolved to this
day. The Pov Panhapich case may indeed involve a ranking RGC
official; an advisor in the PM's cabinet told us Friday
morning about the shooting, noting that he had been directly
called upon (nfi) to facilitate the medical evacuation of the
injured entertainer to Vietnam. The slain union leader's
death, while unrelated to the attack on the female singer,
follows the familiar pattern of gunmen on the backs of
motorcycles shooting their victims with little fear of
capture. While there were two arrests in the case of slain
union leader Chea Vichea, those convicted are not believed by
the murdered leaders' family members nor human rights
community leaders to be the real killers. The other cases
remain open case files in the Ministry of Interior, and a
silent reminder of Cambodia's continuing culture of impunity.
End Comment.
MUSSOMELI

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