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Cablegate: Cambodia: March in Honor of Slain Union Leader Progresses

VZCZCXRO8358
PP RUEHCHI RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHPF #0096/01 0230119
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
P 230119Z JAN 08
FM AMEMBASSY PHNOM PENH
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC PRIORITY 9295
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHC/DEPT OF LABOR WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 PHNOM PENH 000096

SIPDIS

SENSITIVE
SIPDIS

STATE FOR EAP/MLS, DRL, DRL/ILCSR--MITTELHAUSER
LABOR FOR LI

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PHUM ELAB CB

SUBJECT: CAMBODIA: MARCH IN HONOR OF SLAIN UNION LEADER PROGRESSES
SMOOTHLY

REF: A. Phnom Penh 91 (Chinese Threats Scuttle Darfur Ceremony)

B. 07 Phnom Penh 586 (Guilty Verdict Upheld in Controversial Labor
Leader Murder Trial)

1. (SBU) Summary: On January 22, about 100 union leaders, rights
activists, workers and teachers marched in honor of the fourth
anniversary of the assassination of union leader Chea Vichea. In
speeches at the event, union leaders, opposition politicians, and
human rights activists urged the release of the two men convicted of
the crime, who are widely believed to be innocent. They also called
on the King to bestow the title "national hero" on the slain union
leader. After denying permission for anniversary marches in the
three previous years, this year the Phnom Penh Municipality
authorized the march and local police even directed traffic to
facilitate it. When contrasted with this weekend's showdown over
the Darfur rally, the picture of political space in Cambodia is a
complex one, with some highly critical events allowed to go forward
while others encounter substantial government opposition. End
Summary.

2. (U) On January 22, 2004, FTUWKC president Chea Vichea, who
pushed for better working conditions for Cambodian garment workers,
including payment of a living wage, was shot dead while reading a
newspaper at a roadside newsstand in Phnom Penh. The Embassy and
other international organizations condemned the killing and urged
the Cambodian government to bring the assassins to justice. Two
men, Born Samnang and Sok Sam Oeun, were arrested days after the
shooting, convicted, and sentenced to 20 years in prison. Both the
criminal investigation and the court hearings were denounced by the
international community as lacking any credibility. In April 2007,
the Appeals Court upheld the guilty verdicts, ignoring pleas from
the international community and revered former King Sihanouk to
release the two men and find the real killers.

March Proceeds Peacefully, Leaders Appeal for Release of Convicted
Killers
--------------------------------------------- ---------

3. (U) To mark the fourth anniversary of Chea Vichea's
assassination, about 100 people marched from the headquarters of the
Free Trade Union of Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia (FTUWKC) to
the newsstand where the union leader was killed. Marchers laid
flowers at the site of the killing and made speeches, while police
directed traffic to allow the march to proceed. Chea Mony, FTUWKC
president and brother of Chea Vichea, urged the release of two men
convicted of his brother's death, saying that they were wrongly
convicted and demanding that the true perpetrators be brought to
justice. Parents of the two men also appealed for their sons'
release.

4. (U) Chea Mony also called on the King to bestow the title
"national hero" on the slain union leader, citing his work in
serving workers and fighting for democracy and social justice.
Opposition leader Sam Rainsy also urged the King to grant the title,
contrasting Vichea's genuine contributions with the illusory ones of
the country's current leaders. (Note: Rainsy is referring to Prime
Minister Hun Sen, National Assembly President Chea Sim, and Senate
Chairman Chea Sim, who received new honorific titles from the King
in October 2007. End Note.)

March Authorized by City: Fourth Time's a Charm?
--------------------------------------------- ----

5. (U) Despite having banned three previous anniversary marches,
this year the Phnom Penh Municipality not only approved the march,
but assigned police officers to direct traffic around the
procession. In previous years, the city had denied permission for
the march, but demonstrators went ahead with the event anyway.
Prior marches always proceeded peacefully, with embassy observers
and human rights organizations on hand to monitor events, though in
2006 FTUWKC leaders were summoned to City Hall and chastised for
their actions. Just as organizers defied previous orders from the
city not to march, this year they ignored the Municipality's written
admonishment not to allow speeches during the event.

6. (SBU) Comment: Gauging political openness and space for
political freedom is increasingly tricky in Cambodia. While this
weekend's confrontation with police over the Darfur rally showed the
Cambodian government unwilling to allow one form of politically
motivated, peaceful assembly, this march just two days later showed
marked improvement in the government's handling of the anniversary
over past years. The difference has little to do with the overt
sensitivity of the event--after all, highlighting two men wrongly
convicted of a very public crime while the real killers go free
would seem to be far more sensitive than honoring the memories of
genocide victims--and everything to do with outside pressures

PHNOM PENH 00000096 002 OF 002


brought to bear on the government. While the RGC may buckle to
pressure from China, as it did in the Darfur event, when left to its
own devices it can also make the courageous choice to allow free
assembly. End Comment.

MUSSOMELI

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