Cambodian workers protest disrespect to late king

AP News
Posted: Oct 23, 2012 12:02 AM
Cambodian workers protest disrespect to late king

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia (AP) — A Chinese factory supervisor who caused an uproar by tearing up a poster of Cambodia's late King Norodom Sihanouk was transferred Tuesday to a city court where she could face formal charges for insulting the monarchy and inciting public disorder.

The supervisor had accused garment industry employees of shirking work during a week of official mourning for Sihanouk. When she seized the portrait from one worker before a shift and destroyed it, more than 1,000 irate workers protested Monday, eventually marching to the Royal Palace to demand she be punished.

Factory manager Khuch Osaphea expressed regret over the supervisor's actions, dismissed her and handed her to authorities for possible legal action.

It is a crime in Cambodia to insult the royal family, but the law does not mandate any specific punishment and prosecutions are almost unheard of. It was not clear Tuesday what charges prosecutors would pursue.

Sihanouk, who led Cambodia through peace and war, died Oct. 15 in Beijing at age 89. China's government was a steadfast friend of the late monarch, and it arranged the plane on which his body was returned last Wednesday to his home country.

Garment exports are Cambodia's major foreign exchange earner, and as many as 400,000 people work in hundreds of factories in the Phnom Penh area.

The government tries to strike a balance between workers' demands for higher pay and employers' desires to keep wages low. Many factories are subcontractors for large Western brands. The factories involved in Monday's incident produce trousers for U.S. and European markets.

Phnom Penh police chief Lt. Gen. Chuon Sovann said Monday that if police had not arrived on time, the woman would have been in danger of being physically attacked by the workers, "but after receiving assurances from the police that she would face justice for what she did, they were fully understanding."

One worker, So Sareth, said she did not understand why China's government had honored Sihanouk and yet the Chinese supervisor could act so disrespectfully.

"Today this woman dares to tear up the picture of our king, next time she will commit a crime against us workers if she is not punished now," So Sareth said.

The workers traveled by foot and truck to the palace, carrying another portrait of Sihanouk. When they arrived, they all knelt before a giant portrait of the late king on the palace wall, to which they expressed regret for his portrait being destroyed.

A food vendor who sells meals to the workers in front of the factories said he also stopped business to join the protest.

"She had insulted our king. Her act cannot be tolerated," Sokun Theara said.