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(New York) – The murder of a leading Cambodian labor advocate has created a climate of fear for labor, opposition and other activists in the country, Human Rights Watch said today. Chea Vichea, head of the Free Trade Union of the Workers of the Kingdom of Cambodia, was shot dead in Phnom Penh on Thursday.

“Chea Vichea was one of the best-known and most outspoken voices for workers in Cambodia,” said Sara Colm, senior researcher in Human Rights Watch’s Asia division.
“This killing will not only send shockwaves through the labor movement, but it may also silence and intimidate opposition activists and journalists.”

Chea Vichea led efforts to organize garment workers and to fight for improved working conditions in Cambodia. In an interview with Human Rights Watch in 2002, Mr. Chea said that he had been attacked and threatened, and had been beaten by a military colonel in charge of security at a garment factory.

“This assassination will surely exacerbate the climate of fear for workers, journalists, environment and human rights activists who speak out or publicly demonstrate to express their views,” said Colm.

Human Rights Watch noted that Chea Vichea’s assassination is the latest in a string of political killings in Cambodia. His death follows the October killing of a radio journalist and the shooting of a popular singer, both of whom were affiliated with FUNCINPEC, the royalist party led by Prince Norodom Ranariddh. A judge and a court clerk were killed in April 2003, a senior adviser to Norodom Ranariddh was murdered in January 2003, and 13 political party activists were killed in the run-up to the July 2003 elections.

Human Rights Watch said that a series of politically motivated attacks on opposition supporters had gone unpunished. Mr. Chea was a public supporter of political opposition leader Sam Rainsy.

“Unfortunately, Cambodia has a poor track record in bringing to justice the perpetrators of political killings,” said Colm. “The Cambodian authorities must take immediate steps to enforce the law and protect those who struggle for basic freedoms including labor rights,” said Colm.

Human Rights Watch called on the Cambodian authorities to immediately investigate the killing and to bring to justice those responsible for Mr. Chea’s murder.

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