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Prey Speu escapees call on Hun Sen, Red Cross for help

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Villager Ngin Sarith. Photo by Shane Worrell

Women from Borei Keila who escaped Prey Speu social affairs centre on Wednesday broke down and wept this morning in front of family and supporters as they made another plea for housing at a press conference at rights group Licadho’s Phnom Penh headquarters.

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Armed with copies of a Borei Keila construction agreement from 2004 thumbprinted by village representatives, development firm Phan Imex and municipal officials, women spoke of their detainment and called on Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Cambodian Red Cross to find them housing and food.

It was also announced that they would file civil and criminal complaints against Phan Imex.

Eighteen women and two children escaped from the social affairs centre on Wednesday after being held for a week without charge.

They were detained on January 11 for protesting against the January 3 demolition of more than 200 houses in Borei Keila.

Phan Imex originally agreed to construct 10 buildings on two hectares of land to house 1,776 families, in exchange for development rights to 2.6 hectares. The firm has constructed only eight buildings.

Ke Heang, who has lived in Borei Keila since 1990, told the Post that she spent last night sleeping in her market stall after escaping Prey Speu.

“Whatever the municipality tells us is wrong. We have all the legal documents to say we should receive a house,” she said.

The women and children had lived in fear at Prey Speu, Ke Heang said.

“We were scared of other people in there because we were in with drug users and people who had been cleared from the street,” she said.

Other villagers appealed to Prime Minister Hun Sen for a solution and Cambodian Red Cross president Bun Rany for food.

Ngin Sarith said she cried “all day and night” while detained at Prey Speu.

“Please, Samdech Hun Sen, give us money because our houses and property have been destroyed in the eviction,” she said.

“Phan Imex must construct the two buildings for us and release eight villagers who are in Prey Sar prison. They are all innocent.

“Please, Bun Rany, give us food because you are a humanitarian institution.”

A crying Kim Samadi said SRP lawmaker Mu Sochua, who visited the site on Wednesday, had not incited the break-out.

“We devised the plan to leave by ourselves,” she said.

Touch Vanna questioned the use of violence against the protesters on January 3.

“Can I ask those who know the law whether I am wrong just to protect my house from destruction and send me for detention?”

Pung Chhiv Kek, Licadho president, called for a peaceful resolution.

“This issue is a government and company obligation to deal with. A better way is to construct two more buildings for them. Solve it in a peaceful way,” she said.

“I have visited Phnom Bat, there is no shelter, water, wells, electricity or infrastructure at all.”

Neup Ly, community empowerment officer at the Housing Rights Task Force, said eviction was also a serious problem for the children involved.

“Most of their children have dropped out of school because they lost their house. Children who saw the eviction could turn one day to violence . . . because they have experienced violence on them,” he said.

The villagers were planning two complaints against Phan Imex, he said.

“One is a criminal case over destruction of their property and the other is a civil complaint asking the company to construct two buildings for them.”

Only about 100 families had refused compensation offers from Phan Imex, he said.

“After the eviction on January 3, about 300 families left. Many were forced to accept land at relocation sites Tuol Sambo or Phnom Bat,” he said.

Asked whether the Cambodian Red Cross would donate food to Borei Keila residents, Men Neary Sopheak, secretary general at CRC headquarters, said the Borei Keila dispute did not fall under the umbrella of causes that CRC covered.

“This issue is solved through legal procedure. This is a legal issue,” she said.

Sorn Sophal, director of the social affairs department at Phnom Penh municipality, which is responsible for Prey Speu, could not be reached for comment.

Suy Sophan, the owner of Phan Imex, also could not be reached.

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