PHNOM Penh police wielding riot shields and electric batons yesterday dispersed a protest involving about 50 Boeung Kak lake residents trying to draw attention to flooding they said had been exacerbated by recent heavy rains.
“We cannot stand living in flooded homes with polluted water,” said Kong Chantha, a representative of Village 24 in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune, who addressed reporters yesterday while standing in knee-deep water shortly before leading the march to City Hall.
Sok Kimsan, 49, from Village 22, said that although flooding had been common ever since the private firm Shukaku Inc began filling the lake in with sand in 2008, the heavy rains over the past three days had brought the situation to new lows.
“Even though there have been hard rains for many days in the past, our village has never flooded like this,” he said.
Ly Seanton, 60, a resident of Village 23, said that she was worried about her family’s well-being as a result of the flooding, which she said had led to washed-out roads, submerged houses and blocked sewers.
“We are afraid of electrocution from shorted-circuited wires and of other accidents,” she said. “We are also concerned about contagious diseases because of pollution and mosquitoes.”
After the group of protesters reached City Hall yesterday morning, police used riot shields to move them back from the building before ordering them to return home.
Police officials could not be reached for comment yesterday.
In February 2007, Shukaku, which is owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, acquired rights from the municipality to develop the lakeside into a project that rights groups say could ultimately displace more than 4,000 families.
Ee Sarom, an advocacy programme manager for the NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, noted that it was not the first time police had broken up protests by Boeung Kak lake residents.
“Bringing police in to break up peaceful demonstrations by Boeung Kak residents has become the authorities’ standard reaction,” he said. “This is an appalling response to Boeung Kak residents’ demand for basic human rights, including the right to adequate housing and the right to health.”
He said that this week’s flooding “appears to be about the same level as it reached in late August”, when lakeside communities were “inundated with filthy water”.
Asked to comment about the protest yesterday, In Sophon, the deputy chief of Srah Chak commune, said that flooding “is not only at Boeung Kak lake, but also in other areas of Phnom Penh and in other provinces of Cambodia”.