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Rik Reay protesters make stand


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Choeun Panha, 33, a resident of Phnom Penh’s Rik Reay community, watches from her window as developers move in Sunday.

LINKING arms to form a human chain, about a hundred residents of Phnom Penh's Rik Reay community stood in front of four machines dumping sand into their community in an attempt to prevent development work on Saturday.

Undeterred, workers for Bassac Garden City turned on the machines - pushing sand around and over the feet of the protesters, while others aimed guns at them, a local resident said.

"They pointed guns to get us to unlock our arms, and then they proceeded to push dirt at our legs because we refused to back down," said Chan Bunthol, 39, a community representative and one of the protesters.

Rath Kumnith, a legal adviser to Canadia Bank, which is providing a loan toBassac Garden City to fund the development, was unavailable for comment on Sunday.

Chan Bunthol said as a result of his protests he fears for his safety. "They want to arrest me because they've accused me of being a gangster, but I am only trying to protect my home," he said.

Heng Samphos, another community representative who has lived in Rik Reay since 1990, said the protesters also placed a giant Cambodian flag on the ground but that the development machines drove on top of it - proof, Heng Samphos said, "that they look down on our nation".

Sim Vay, the deputy chief of Village 8 said, "It is very hard to help people here. ... They asked me to talk to the Bassac Garden City owner to get a higher price [for compensation], and after I talked with the owner they agreed to increase the price by US$1,500, but people rejected it."

The deputy chief said the protesters "did not want to help our village but only to make trouble by themselves".

Khat Narith, the Tonle Bassac commune chief, said that Bassac Garden City filled their own property: "It is not related to residents' land," he said.

"Now, there are only about 50 families out of 219 who refuse compensation because they want to get between $100,000 and $150,000 for each family," he said, adding, "The company has the land titles to the land - which the people do not - so people don't have rights to that land. I think the company's compensation is enough for them because their houses are small, wooden and dilapidated," he added.

But Bunn Rachana, a monitor for the Housing Rights Task Force, said the company's actions were illegal, even if the company did hold the land title.

"What the company did with the Rik Reay community is against the people's housing rights because it is under negotiation. But the company filled up the land ... [to] put pressure on people to accept their compensation," Bunn Rachana said.

NGOs condemn eviction

The Housing Rights Task Force released a statement on Sunday calling on the Bassac Garden City company to negotiate in good faith with the community and to halt all activities on the land.

The statement said the filling of the land was "in direct violation of the possession rights of community members, as guaranteed in the 2001 Land Law and the 1993 Constitution of Cambodia".

Amnesty International condemned the increase of forced evictions in Cambodia

In its submission to the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights from early April, Amnesty International wrote: "Cambodian law does not include a clear prohibition on forced eviction and only provides a limited and weak degree of protection against forced evictions."

Amnesty International's submission highlighted a dearth of effective legal remedies for villagers like the ones at Rik Reay community who feel they were unlawfully evicted, saying it was "not aware of any instance in which victims of forced eviction have been able to acquire restitution through litigation".

The Amnesty submission specifically mentioned the alternative housing offered to the Rik Reay community as "inadequate" and called the compensation "insufficient".



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