PHNOM PENH - A woman was shot dead and several people injured in clashes between protesting garment workers and riot police in the Cambodian capital Tuesday, a rights group and family members said.
The clashes erupted as hundreds of employees from a factory supplying global brands marched towards Prime Minister Hun Sen's home in the heart of Phnom Penh to demand better working conditions.
"This is a cruel crackdown by the authorities," said Am Sam Ath from local rights group Licadho, at a city hospital where the injured were taken.
The activist told AFP that five others suffered gunshot wounds during the unrest.
Authorities earlier said that security forces had used water cannon as demonstrators threw rocks and set a police vehicle alight. They have not confirmed witness reports of a more forceful response including rubber bullets and tear gas.
The dead woman was named as 49-year-old Eng Sokhom by family members.
"My mother was shot in the chest while she was selling rice on the roadside," said her daughter Vong Voleak.
An AFP reporter at the scene said local people had found what appeared to be a bullet casing near the street stall.
Hundreds of riot police, many armed with batons and shields, were on the capital's streets, which were littered with rocks and tear gas canisters after the protesters were dispersed.
The situation appeared to have calmed down by midday.
Unions said violence broke out when riot police stopped more than a thousand workers from the Singapore-owned SL Garment Processing factory - which supplies global brands like Gap and H&M - who have been demonstrating periodically for weeks.
"We went to the prime minister to seek his intervention to improve the working conditions at the factory. But authorities used weapons to crack down on them," said Kong Athit, deputy leader of the Coalition of Cambodia Apparel Workers' Democratic Union which organised the march.
He said at least eight people were injured either by bullets or by police beatings.
Kong Athit said nearby residents and Buddhist monks had joined the workers' protest.
An AFP reporter at the scene saw more than a dozen people - including several monks - rounded up by police. Officers beat a number of protesters in their custody and left several bleeding.
Disputes over wages, safety and conditions in Cambodia's lucrative garment industry are frequent.
The multibillion-dollar industry employs about 650,000 people and is a key source of foreign income for the impoverished country.
Currently workers can earn around US$110 (S$137) a month with overtime.
In July the International Labour Organisation accused Cambodia of backsliding in efforts to improve working conditions in the sector.
The kingdom was failing to make progress in areas such as worker and fire safety and the use of child labour, it said in a report.
Prime Minister Hun Sen has said protests may imperil the country's garment industry by persuading firms to relocate to Myanmar, Laos and India where labour is cheaper.