MUNICIPAL and Daun Penh district police yesterday forcibly broke up a demonstration near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh home by villagers from Battambang province, loading them onto a bus out of town in a move that drew swift condemnation from rights workers.
The roughly 50 demonstrators were hoping to draw attention to their fight for 1,672 hectares of land in Kors Kralor district that is also claimed by Long Sidare, a military police officer in the capital who in September 2008 began trying to relocate 415 families in order to develop a rubber plantation.
Representatives of the demonstrators said five people, including a 3-year-old, suffered minor injuries during the altercation with police, who forced the entire group onto a bus that set off for Battambang at around noon.
In a statement released yesterday afternoon, the rights group Licadho said it “strongly condemns the violent dispersal and forced removal” of the demonstrators, who it said had gathered “peacefully”.
Describing the loading of the demonstrators onto the bus, the statement said: “Police and security guards then forced the villagers into the bus, by violently lifting them from the ground and pushing them towards the vehicle, amidst the villagers’ cries of anguish and tears.”
“The violence used this morning against peaceful protesters was unjustified,” Licadho technical supervisor Am Sam Ath was quoted as saying.
“The fact that the violence also targeted mothers carrying babies makes this incident even more disgraceful. How can we tolerate police using violence against mothers and babies?”
Van Dy, 42, one of the demonstrators, said they had hoped to convince authorities at the national level that they had a right to the land, and that they were also pushing for the release of Hun Sengly, who was arrested in August 2008 and was serving a five-year sentence on charges of robbery and destroying public property. She said the demonstrators had come to Phnom Penh because they did not trust officials in Battambang to resolve the dispute fairly.
“I don’t believe that they’ll settle our problem at the provincial office,” she said.
Daun Penh district police chief Hun Sothy declined to comment on the breakup of the protest yesterday, and Long Sidare could not be reached. Lim Leang Se, deputy chief of Hun Sen’s cabinet, said the dispute should be addressed at the provincial level.