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Police clash with lakeside villagers

Photo by: Heng Chivoan
The face of defiance
A protester stares down riot police near the home of Prime Minister Hun Sen in Phnom Penh yesterday. The row was over Boeung Kak lake floodwaters.

POLICE thwarted a proposed meeting of about 500 Boeung Kak lake residents yesterday and later used shields and electric batons to break up a protest by around 200 of the group who moved on to protest outside of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house.

Boeung Kak resident Soung Sophoan said the villagers were forced into an impromptu demonstration after Srak Chak commune authorities prevented a scheduled meeting at the nearby National Institute of Education. Police and villagers were involved in minor clashes as the protest moved towards the premier’s house near the Independence Monument.

“We planned to have a peaceful consultation at the National Institute of Education, but Srah Chak commune chief Chay Thirith banned it and told us to do it at the Red Cross Hospital,” he said. “But the hospital was closed, so we did the protest here.”

He said people were not protesting against anyone in particular, but highlighting the fact that they “need a solution from the government because people’s houses are being flooded higher and higher”.

Villagers have linked the rising waters to the filling of the lake for a controversial 133-hectare real estate development. Rights groups estimate more than 4,000 families will eventually make way for the project.

In a statement yesterday, the Housing Rights Task Force slammed the disruption of the meeting, which it said had been intended as a forum to discuss residents’ demands that they not be forced out of their homes and receive adequate housing in return for relocation.

“HRTF calls for the authorities to investigate the incident as a violation of people’s rights to assembly, as well to respect people’s rights as enshrined in the Cambodian constitution,” the statement said.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the HRTF, said yesterday that the disruption of the meeting “was entirely unjustified”.

“The authorities need to respect human rights including the freedom to assembly,” he said.

When contacted yesterday, Chhay Thirith denied allegations that he had stopped the proposed meeting from being held. “I did not know about the problem because this morning I was at a drug conference,” he said.

Phnom Penh police chief Touch Naruth denied that police were deployed to forcibly remove lakeside residents from the park in front of Hun Sen’s home.

“Police were deployed to protect public order,” he said. “Before we resorted to violence, we requested that they move their protest to Wat Botum.”
He said that human rights groups should not make their accusations about the police action based on testimony from “bad people”.



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