A 60-year-old woman was injured and sent to hospital yesterday when police cracked down on anti-eviction protesters blocking a busy bridge in Koh Kong province, villagers said.
More than 100 villagers locked in a dispute with the company that manages the Koh Kong Special Economic Zone, owned by ruling party senator and tycoon Ly Yong Phat, had blocked the Koh Kong Bridge in support of a jailed community representative after provincial authorities refused to meet with them.
The villagers – aided by protesters from Boeung Kak and other Phnom Penh communities – were met by about 100 police and military police, said Ream Rum, one of the group’s representatives.
“They did not have shields or sticks, but they used their hands to attack us violently. They pushed us, and we fell down,” he said.
Villager Chan Yan Ny sustained a leg injury and was taken to hospital, Rum said.
Scores of families have been in dispute with the SEZ over land in Kiri Sakor district. Company representatives could not be reached yesterday.
Phorn Nol, 48, a community representative, was detained on October 27, charged with the theft of materials from the company. Villagers have conceded that equipment was taken, but only because fences were being built on their land.
Pen Bon Chhouy, Koh Kong town governor, said authorities had a duty to stop the villagers from blocking the bridge.
“It disrupts public order,” he said.
The clash came as the NGO Forum on Cambodia released its Statistical Analysis of Land Disputes in Cambodia 2013.
By the end of last year, the report says, 311 land disputes were deemed “active” across all provinces. About 80 had been resolved throughout the year.
The number of new disputes in 2013 – an election year – had fallen from previous years.
“In total, 28 new land dispute cases … were recorded as commencing,” compared with 39, 39 and 46 in 2010, 2011 and 2012, respectively.
With 29, Phnom Penh had the most disputes, followed by Ratanakkiri province at 26. Pailin and Kep provinces recorded just one dispute each.
About 65,000 households, including about 15,000 in Phnom Penh, remained in a dispute. By area, agricultural land was the most contested – representing 48 per cent of all disputed land – followed by residential land at 29 per cent. Twenty-six per cent of all cases involved economic land concessions.
“ELCs were related to 80 disputes and … 92,778 people were affected,” the report says.
Tek Vannara, NGO Forum executive director, said his group supported development.
“But we are disappointed that [many] private investors don’t have a proper model to ... [prevent] negative impacts on the people,” he said. “We want [resolution mechanisms] implemented and enforced fully.”
Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said 2014 had so far been relatively stable. With many cases unresolved, however, the threat of eviction still hung over the heads of many, he added, noting that there are currently 67 “communities under the threat of eviction”.
Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said “the number [of disputes] is going down”. Protests continued because NGOs were still “drumming up national and international attention” for their causes, he added.
ADDITIONAL REPPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL