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Beatings no human rights violation: official

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Kong Chantha, a Boeung Kak lake representative, being taken into custody during a protest outside City Hall in February.

Om Yentieng, head of the Anticorruption Unit and the government’s human rights committee, claimed this week that no human rights violations were committed during a violent police crackdown against protestors from the Boeung Kak lakeside outside the Phnom Penh City Hall last month.

The April 21 protest erupted into violence when more than 100 police wielding electric batons attacked roughly 100 villagers and arrested 11 people, including two children.

Speaking on the sidelines of a two-day land rights conference in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, Om Yentieng said villagers could file a criminal complaint if they so chose, but that the police actions did not constitute a human rights violation.

“[Villagers] asked City Hall about this many times, but I do not view this as a human rights violation,” he said.

“Which article says that the actions of authorities were wrong?” he said, referring to Cambodia’s penal code.

Rights groups say more than 4,000 families will ultimately be evicted from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake area to make way for a real estate development run by a Chinese firm and ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin. Boeung Kak residents have staged frequent protests in the capital since the concession was awarded in 2007.

Tep Vanny, a Boeung Kak representative, said Om Yentieng’s comments reflected the government’s indifference to her community’s plight.

“Om Yentieng does not recognize the truth, takes no responsibility, disguises the facts and tries to confuse democracy,” she said.

Ouch Leng, head of the land programme at local rights group Adhoc, said Om Yentieng’s comments demonstrated his willingness to condone human rights violations committed by government officials.

“The villagers protested to find a non-violent resolution, but authorities used violence against them,” Ouch Leng said.  

Roughly 150,000 Phnom Penh residents, or about 9.5 percent of the capital’s current population, have been displaced since 1990, according to figures released yesterday by housing NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.

A total of 1,510 families in Phnom Penh were displaced by forced evictions and planned relocations last year, STT said.

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