Boeung Kak villagers, backed by monks from the Independent Monks Network, blocked Monivong Boulevard for the third straight day yesterday as they continued their protest over compensation they say they were forced to accept when evicted from their land in 2008.
Unlike the situation at Tuesday’s roadblock – which saw security forces beat up two protesters and a monk – there was little police presence in evidence yesterday, even as protesters burned tyres in the street and shouted through a megaphone at officials inside Phnom Penh’s Municipal Hall.
Yesterday’s blockage of the heavily trafficked boulevard, this time from 8:30am until 6pm, persisted even after Cambodia National Rescue Party president Rainsy urged them to clear the street.
“In this circumstance, we should not protest by blocking the road, since this action could be portrayed by the government authorities as us breaking the law,” Rainsy said. “The Cambodia National Rescue Party has millions of people who are willing to join the march. We could possibly block all the roads and the airport, but we chose not to do so, because that time has not come yet.”
However, longtime Boeung Kak community representative Tep Vanny, who first joined the protest on Tuesday, declined to vacate the road, saying that the protest would continue, and that the community had to avoid associations with political organisations lest they be branded political activists by the government.
“We are glad to hear that the elected political party pays attention to and supports us, but we will not stop protesting for our land and housing disputes and join with the political party’s demonstration, because we do not want the government authorities to say that our land and housing disputes are related to political issues,” she said.
Rainsy confirmed, for authorities’ benefit, that the protesters were unaffiliated with the CNRP, and also floated the idea of leading striking garment workers to attend the protest in support of the Boeung Kak villagers.
However, CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann said later in the day that a different plan had been arrived at.
“He has promised to meet with the [municipal] governor to demand a solution to Boeung Kak lake,” this morning, Sovann said, noting that Rainsy had asked protesters to move because party officials “were afraid there would be a crackdown”.
That crackdown could still be in the offing. Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche said yesterday that about 100 Municipal Hall officials filed a complaint on Tuesday asking for the intervention of the Phnom Penh Municipal Police in ensuring their safety, and accusing the protesters of “intentionally trying to [trap] and intimidate the public officials and destroying public property”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL