Fugitive Cambodian governor caught

Fugitive Cambodian governor caught

Garment workers shout and wave flags as they take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages on Labour Day in Phnom Penh on May 1. (Reuters Photo)
Garment workers shout and wave flags as they take part in a protest calling on the government to raise wages on Labour Day in Phnom Penh on May 1. (Reuters Photo)

PHNOM PENH — A fugitive Cambodian governor wanted for the shooting of three garment workers was arrested on Saturday after more than two years on the run, after Prime Minister Hun Sen broke his silence and called for his arrest.

Chhouk Bandith shot and wounded the women in front of thousands of workers during a protest in 2012 at a factory in Svay Rieng province that supplies the German sporting goods group Puma.

His years of freedom — despite being convicted in absentia in 2013 and sentenced to 18 months in prison — has long angered Cambodians fed up with the antics of an often untouchable elite.

Chhouk Bandith, who previously served as governor of the town of Bavet, on the border with Vietnam, surrendered to police in the capital, Phnom Penh, city police chief General Chuon Sovann told Reuters.

"We have Chhouk Bandith and we are transferring him to Svay Rieng provincial court to further process the legal procedures," Chuon Sovann said.

Chhouk Bandith chose to surrender after Hun Sen publicly called for the first time on Monday that he be arrested, Chuon Sovann said.

Activists welcomed the arrest, but said the fact that his years on the lam only ended with a word from Hun Sen showed the power of the prime minister's meddling in the country's deeply corrupt law enforcement and judiciary, which is often used to stifle his opponents.

"The message Hun Sen wants to send is that his word is magical," said Moeun Tola, a labour activist with the Community Legal Education Center.

Rights groups have criticised the charge on which Chhouk Bandith was convicted — unintentional injury — as too lenient and have called for fresh charges of attempted murder.

Renewed interest in the case was sparked after the high-profile arrest of real estate tycoon Sok Bun in July for the beating of a female television presenter, Ek Socheata.

Hun Sen added his voice to the chorus of condemnation over the beating, after a video of the attack went viral online.

Protests over wages and working conditions, and violent crackdowns, are common in Cambodia's garment industry. Garments are the country's biggest revenue earner, bringing in more than US$5 billion annually and employing 600,000 people.

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