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Eang Naim, who leads the community fishery in charge of monitoring the six communes that can access Be Prammuoy Lake, treks toward the lake with a fellow community watchman. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)
Eang Naim, who leads the community fishery in charge of monitoring the six communes that can access Be Prammuoy Lake, treks toward the lake with a fellow community watchman. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)

By Alex Consiglio and Phorn Bopha
The Cambodia Daily

BE PRAMMUOY LAKE, Kompong Cham province – Khan Thea, a subsistence fisherman who lives and works along this sprawling, 7,000-hectare lake fed by the Mekong River, was not having a good day on the water.

Struggling to net even a single fish, he finally resorted to a dangerous—and illegal—technique: fishing with electric current.

He and his wife, Chab Chroeb, say they don’t want to fish illegally, but they are too poor not to, especially now that the fish stocks in Be Prammuoy Lake have been seriously depleted by large-scale illegal fishing in the Mekong.

With help from Ms. Chroeb, Mr. Thea, 40, loaded a car battery and a small transformer onto his cracked boat, wired the battery and transformer to two metal rods taped to bamboo sticks, and dipped the electrified rods into the water, hoping to collect the stunned fish as they floated to the surface. But even after he had discharged an electric current into the lake for several seconds, sending up a froth of bubbles, no fish emerged.

“Before if you went in the water you would step on fish,” said Ms. Chroeb, 37, docking her canoe and resigning herself to cooking a meager dinner of foraged mushrooms that night, rather than the fish she had been hoping would feed her family of seven.

“Now they are all gone.”

Prime Minister Hun Sen abolished Cambodia’s system of commercial fishing lots in 2012, a major policy change intended to conserve fish stocks and give local subsistence fishermen a better shot at making a living.

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Phon Srim practices sewing during a tailoring class at Kompong Cham’s provincial vocational training center on Tuesday. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)
Phon Srim practices sewing during a tailoring class at Kompong Cham’s provincial vocational training center on Tuesday. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)

By Phorn Bopha and Alex Consiglio
The Cambodia Daily

PREY CHHOR DISTRICT, Kompong Cham/STONG DISTRICT, Kompong Thom – Chhe Noy, a migrant worker who arrived back in her village in Kompong Cham province from Thailand this week, can’t stop stroking her 8-year-old daughter’s hair. Every few minutes, she plants a kiss on the girl’s cheek.

“I missed her so much,” said Ms. Noy, 29, who left Mien commune for Thailand in May 2013. “That’s why I keep kissing her. But soon I will go back to Thailand. I need to make money for her.”

Over 150,000 Cambodian migrant workers like Ms. Noy have fled Thailand in the past week after reports of a crackdown on illegal laborers by the military junta. The Cambodian government is urging them to seek schooling at its vocational training centers and find work in Cambodia, but many are still planning to head back to Thailand at the first opportunity.

Interior Minister Sar Kheng said on Tuesday that the returning workers should help the Cambodian economy.

“Maybe they have some experience from Thailand, so the Ministry of Labor made press releases to train them for a short time,” he said in a speech at a graduation ceremony. “They can work hard and find [jobs] in the labor market because now the labor market lacks workers, so we open up the chance for them, and they can help build the economy in Cambodia.”

But Ms. Noy, who entered Thailand illegally and was making about $9.50 per day there as a bricklayer, nearly double what she could make here, said the government’s training centers are not a viable option for her.

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Baor Sarath sits outside his former boarding room off of Veng Sreng street, with his wife taking care of their baby inside, on Sunday. // Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily

By Mech Dara and Alex Consiglio
The Cambodia Daily

Pang Vanny says that before this year, he never thought of joining protests or fighting for labor rights.

Five months in prison changed that.

Mr. Vanny was arrested on January 3, when military police cracked down a violent demonstration on Veng Sreng Street—part of nationwide garment worker protests demanding a minimum monthly wage of $160.

At least five people were shot dead and more than 40 were injured during the clash, both of which Mr. Vanny denies taking part in.

“It is an injustice what they did to us,” said Mr. Vanny, a soft-spoken 38-year-old who has been working in the garment sector for 10 years. “I will join future protests because of what happened to me.”

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Muon Sokmean at a relative’s wedding in 2012. (Courtesy of Pok Heam)
Muon Sokmean at a relative’s wedding in 2012. (Courtesy of Pok Heam)

By Mech Dara and Alex Consiglio
The Cambodia Daily

Muon Sokmean, a 29-year-old garment worker, scrambled off Veng Sreng Street on January 3 with military police in violent pursuit, brandishing their batons.

What had been a militant protest for a $160 minimum wage in the garment sector—with many protesters lobbing rocks and crude Molotov cocktails at military police—had devolved into a pitched battle on one of Phnom Penh’s main industrial boulevards.

“I saw military police chase him into my restaurant and beat him with batons,” said Vy, 32, the owner of a restaurant on Veng Sreng Street, who declined to give her full name Monday for fear of her personal safety.

“They kept kicking him once he fell down. He was really severely beaten,” said Vy.

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Men battle a fire raging in Phnom Penh's Meanchey district. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)
Men battle a fire raging in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district. (Alex Consiglio/The Cambodia Daily)

By Sek Odom and Alex Consiglio

A raging fire in Phnom Penh’s Meanchey district destroyed 22 homes early Wednesday morning as local villagers struggled to quell the flames and firefighters scrambled to gain access.

At about 1 a.m., an electricity line snapped and sparked the fire, Phnom Penh Fire Department bureau chief Neth Vantha said.

It quickly spread despite villagers using garden hoses, ice blocks and sticks to control it as firefighters slowly arrived on the scene in Chbar Ampov II commune.

“It was difficult to go in there because the roads are too small,” said Mr. Vantha. “We were late because people didn’t have our number… also because the local officials didn’t give any report.”

Once on the scene, at least 15 minutes into the fire, firefighters helped villagers save a neighboring pagoda from the inferno, but 22 homes and a furniture business were completely destroyed. No one was injured in the blaze.

More pictures and story in the post…

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