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Second front in Boeung Kak fight

Boeung Kak lake activists and community members
Boeung Kak lake activists and community members march through the streets of Phnom Penh yesterday with placards on their way to hold a demonstration in front of Phnom Penh City Hall. Hong Menea

Second front in Boeung Kak fight

Boeung Kak activist Yorm Bopha will lead a “monthlong” protest beginning today in the capital’s Freedom Park, she said yesterday, despite City Hall refusing her permission to use the public gathering space.

“We will gather and protest at Freedom Park, because we need solutions, freedom and social justice,” she said, referring to land disputes that have plagued her community and others for years.

Bopha’s demonstration, which is to involve at least 30 families, would be separate from other Boeung Kak protests, which she said were becoming repetitive. She denied, however, that another rift had developed among the lakeside community.

“If all we do is demonstrate on the streets, submitting complaints or petitions to state department or embassies, it won’t be attractive [to people],” she said. “I need to do something different, but with the same goals.”

Boeung Kak lake activists stand in front of Phnom Penh City Hall
Boeung Kak lake activists stand in front of Phnom Penh City Hall yesterday calling for the release of 11 activists. Hong Menea

On Thursday, the Court of Appeal will hear the case of 11 activists sentenced to a year in prison in November for protesting. Among the group are some of Boeung Kak’s leading activists, including Tep Vanny.

Since the activists were imprisoned, responsibility for keeping protest momentum going has fallen on others, including Bopha and Bov Sophea, one of 13 Boeung Kak women imprisoned in 2012 and later released.

But Bopha has been absent from some demonstrations involving the Boeung Kak community – which has not gone unnoticed.

Community representative Chan Puthisak – one of 23 activists and workers jailed during the fatal garment strike crackdowns last January – said yesterday that Bopha had spent time in the provinces recently while others protested in the capital, speaking freely with journalists about her activism upon her return.

“She’s taking action for herself and not the community,” he said.

Puthisak added that he was not exactly sure what Bopha had planned for Freedom Park today.

Playing down any conflict, Bopha said the community was still united.

“I know that some people in the Boeung Kak area are not happy with my actions,” she said. “But we have not broken our friendships. And we still do everything to demand land titles and that everything be free and fair for the activists.”

Dozens of protesters, led by Puthisak and Sophea, gathered outside City Hall yesterday as well as walking through the streets, calling for an end to land disputes.

Separately, Bopha and other representatives met with Phnom Penh Municipal officials over their planned protest today.

Their request for permission to use Freedom Park was denied, continuing a trend in the past year of protests at the designated public gathering space mostly being disallowed.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the latest request had been denied because the gathering would last too long and posed a risk of violence.

“The request . . . is beyond the limits of the law. We cannot allow it, as it might lead to another violent clash,” he said. “Besides, they want to appeal to [City Hall] to release the prisoners – but that is beyond our ability.”

A number of violent clashes have occurred in and around Freedom Park in the past year, mostly involving district security guards beating civilians.

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