South Korean embassy officials and factory workers had direct contact with the security forces behind the violent dispersal of striking garment factory workers near the Cambodian capital last week.
A possible motivation for the sudden confrontations outside Phnom Penh emerged via a South Korean embassy statement released, and now deleted, on Facebook.
A two-week garment workers' strike was violently broken by police and military firing into protesting crowds on Friday, leading to the deaths of up to five people.
In a statement released Monday on the Facebook page of the South Korean Embassy in Cambodia, officials detailed pleas to both the ministries in Hun Sen's ruling government and the key opposition party led by Sam Rainsy.
In a translation obtained by the ABC from its original Korean, the Facebook post, since removed from the site, said embassy staff had actively engaged Cambodian police and military to protect South Korean assets.
...they sent armies only for our companies in Canadia industrial complex, protecting against fires and plunder.
A statement by the South Korean Embassy in Cambodia on Facebook.
"We've prepared concrete actions with the co-operation of the police and the army for protection of our labourers," said the statement.
"With our companies, we've visited the army office of city protection and explained the real situation.
"Then they sent armies only for our companies in Canadia industrial complex, protecting against fires and plunder [from the strike and protests]."
South Korea is Cambodia's largest investor, owning the majority of its sprawling garment making industry.
Clothing manufacture is the country's largest industrial sector, accounting for some $US5 billion per year in exports.
The Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia puts losses to garment industries as a result of the strike at more than $200 million.
That's nearly Seoul's entire 2012 investment in the country.
Factory owners made direct pleas
In a wide-ranging investigative report by the GlobalPost news website, an administrative officer with South Korean-US garment maker Yakjin, which supplies products to Gap and Walmart among others, said the pleas of factory owners extended directly to the military.
But the officer, Kong Sokunthea, said she believed the violent dispersal wasn't planned.
"People, and not just the labour union, gathered and tried to literally push into the factory," she said.
"There is a military unit behind the factory, and a worker [inside the factory] knew a soldier, so we asked the military to step up.
"The military came in front of the factory door and tried to convince the workers to return, but they declined, so the military got a few people.
"The government's order was also the reason why the military was able to subjugate the strike in such a fierce manner."
She denied that Yakjin had been working with the South Korean government, and was unaware of any meetings with the military.
The statement from the South Korean Embassy in Cambodia however, suggests some very high level consultations between Seoul and Phnom Penh officials.
"We sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen for the re-normalisation of our company's business in this early strike," it said.
"We contacted the leader of national committee against the terror explaining to him about the deep worry for our foreign companies.
"With these actions, we believe that the Cambodian government accepted our appeals and raised their concerns for our companies."
South Korean insignia on strike breaker
The emergence of the South Korean statement confirming representations between Seoul and Phnom Penh also raises questions about a fluke video snapshot recorded during the dispersal of the garment workers.
A video posted on Facebook on January 2 shows several frames of an individual wearing the South Korean insignia and the same military fatigues as his Cambodian counterparts engaged in clearance operations.
A spokesman for the Cambodian Council of Ministers, Phay Siphan, told GlobalPost that the individual had no link to the military.
"The Cambodian military unit does not have Korean flag bearers," he said.
"What you saw could be a private individual and not a unit from Korea."
Meanwhile, the United Nations' human rights office says it is alarmed by Cambodia's crackdown on protesters and urged the authorities to show restraint.
Spokesman for the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Rupert Colville, urged Cambodia to launch a "prompt and thorough investigation" of the security forces' actions and ensure that members found to have used disproportionate and excessive force are held accountable.
"We are following the situation in Cambodia with serious concern and are deeply alarmed by the disproportionate use of force by law enforcement officials in responding to demonstrations," he said.
He expressed concern about the disappearance of 23 people detained after last week's protests, including at least one minor.
The UN human rights office also announced that the world body's Cambodia monitor, Surya Subedi, would visit the country from January 12-17.
Translation of Facebook statement, posted Monday January 6 at 2:38pm
Report on Cambodia Safety (10)
Greeting to Koreans residents in Cambodia,
Relating to recent political situation in Cambodia, I want to offer sincere encouragement to you who have many concerns regarding this matter. We as the Embassy of Korea did our best but we think this action is still lacking for your satisfaction. [Editor's note: this last sentence is culturally Korean and not literal, but rather saying they tried to the best of their ability].
Until now we summarise our actions: we sent a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen for the re-normalisation of our companies' business in this early strike. We contacted the leader of national committee against the terror explaining to him about the deep worry for our foreign companies. With these actions, we believe that Cambodian government accepted our appeals and raised their concerns for our companies.
Also we sent a letter of appeal to the representative of the opposition party, the representative of San Rainsy, with the same explanation for the importance of re-normalisation of business. His response back to us stated he understood the importance of foreign investment and the response of peaceful, democratic, and non-violence actions.
We sent also a letter of appeal regarding the safety of our labourers and our companies to the Department of Interior, the Ministry of Justice, the national police agency.
We've prepared concrete actions with the co-operation of the police and the army for protection of our labourers. With our companies, we've visited the army office of city protection and explained the real situation. Then they sent armies only for our companies in Canadia industrial complex, protecting against fires and plunder [from the strike and protests].
Furthermore, we promise you that we will continually do our best to resolve this situation for you and your safety. But we do ask that you to understand the sensitivity of delivering this accurate information and the relationship of country of residence [between South Korea and Cambodia].
Once again we want to stand with our Korean residents in Cambodia and the companies which had difficulties from this situation and we want to console you from our hearts.
We ask all of you to deal with as much possible safety in this difficult situation.
Country of residence Cambodia Korea Embassy