Cambodian police arrested a casino workers union leader and two of her colleagues Tuesday as hundreds of workers protested against lay-offs at a gambling hotspot run by a Hong Kong-listed firm.

Chhim Sithar, the leader of the workers' union at Nagacorp Ltd's casino and hotel complex in Phnom Penh, was dragged into a car by plainclothes police as she arrived at a protest, AFP journalists at the scene said.

Hundreds of workers were demanding the reinstatement of 365 employees laid off last year during the Covid-19 pandemic.

Hundreds of casino workers in Cambodia are demanding the reinstatement of employees laid off during the pandemic
Hundreds of casino workers in Cambodia are demanding the reinstatement of employees laid off during the pandemic AFP / TANG CHHIN Sothy

Two other unionists from her group were also arrested on Tuesday afternoon, according to rights activists.

Earlier, Phnom Penh deputy police chief Bun Sosekha had said the trio were wanted on "incitement" charges because the workers' strike, which began last month, was illegal.

The arrests came after a Phnom Penh court on Monday jailed six people over incitement charges in connection with the same casino strike.

A casino workers union leader and two of her colleagues were arrested on Tuesday
A casino workers union leader and two of her colleagues were arrested on Tuesday AFP / TANG CHHIN Sothy

Police also confirmed they were questioning 17 other casino workers arrested on Monday.

Those striking told AFP they had not been compensated properly and would continue their action until their demands are met.

"We will continue... We are here to protect our rice pots," Ly Long Hean, 26, told AFP, urging the company to let him go back to work.

A group of 119 rights organisations called on authorities to immediately release the workers, saying their strike was peaceful.

Nagacorp, which has the exclusive licence to operate in Phnom Penh until 2065, could not be reached immediately for comment.

Cambodia, one of Southeast Asia's poorest countries, has a complex relationship with gambling -- while it has casinos, its own citizens are officially barred from playing in them.

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