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Protesters descend on Cambodian Embassy over labor exploitation

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Published : 2014-02-16 19:45
Updated : 2014-02-16 19:45

Protestors demanding the release of 23 Cambodian workers, who were detained in Phnom Penh in January after a bloody crackdown by military police, gather outside the Cambodian Embassy in Hannam-dong, Seoul, Monday. (Yonhap)

When officials and local staff at the Cambodian Embassy in Hannam-dong, Seoul, arrived to work Monday, they were met by noisy protesters.

It was the latest action related to the months-long labor disputes at scores of garment factories in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh, which spiraled out of control on Jan. 3 when security forces opened fire with assault rifles.

Five were killed and dozens more injured in the worst violence to hit the country in 15 years.

The protestors, who are backed by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party, demand better wages for workers at garment factories, most of which are owned and operated by South Korean companies.

“We are calling for the Cambodian government to free the 23 detained workers because there was a court hearing in Cambodia on Feb. 11. We want the government to release the workers,” said Ryu Mi-kyung, international director of the KCTU.

“Actually, the issue in Cambodia of a basic minimum wage is a global issue. So, last week, some global unions, including the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, called for an international day of action in support of the Cambodian workers’ struggle.”

Twenty-one workers in Cambodia were denied bail and remain in custody despite international demands for their release.

When reached by phone, Cambodian diplomat Kokaneath Chhim declined to comment on Monday’s protest outside the embassy or on the situation in Cambodia.

Some 500,000 Cambodians are employed in the garment industry, which is worth $5 billion a year to its economy in exports. The government there has set the minimum monthly wage at $100. Striking workers are demanding a minimum of $160 in monthly wages, a figure pledged by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.

Since establishing diplomatic relations with Cambodia in September 1997, South Korea has become one of Cambodia’s largest foreign investors with a cumulative total of $4.35 billion as of 2012.

By Philip Iglauer (ephilip2011@heraldcorp.com)

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