Heng Chivoan and Uy Nousereimony
ABOUT 100 disgruntled residents of the Boeung Kak lakeside have set fire to tyres near sand-pumping equipment being used to fill in the lake, and later clashed with police as they tried to make their way to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh home.
Ly Mom, a community representative from Village 24 in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune, said the protest occurred spontaneously after local authorities and Shukaku Inc employees refused to halt efforts to fill in the lake, causing a number of homes to be inundated with mud earlier in the morning.
“We had just asked them to temporarily stop pumping the sand to prevent our homes from flooding,” she said.
After their request was denied, residents burned several tyres on the sand near the company’s equipment.
When they attempted to leave Srah Chak commune and walk to Hun Sen’s home, they were blocked by police and military police, according to a statement released by the Housing Rights Task Force.
“As the situation developed, the increasingly beleaguered protesters, largely consisting of women and children, faced violence on the part of the police, who pushed people and pinned some women against a wall,” the statement said.
HRTF secretary general Sia Phearum said that the actions of the police “reflect the increasing pressure and intimidation of residents of Boeung Kak”.
“The company and local police force have no right to surround and intimidate community members, who were only exercising their right to freedom of expression and imparting information,” he said.
In February 2007, Shukaku Inc, a local developer owned by Cambodian People’s Party Senator Lao Meng Khin, signed a lease agreement with the municipality giving it the right to develop the lakeside. The following year the company began filling in the lake to make way for a 133-hectare housing and commercial development. Housing rights advocates say that more than 4,000 families will be displaced by the project.
Sok Sambath, Daun Penh district governor, met with the protesters at the blockade and asked them to write a letter detailing their complaints and demands. At first he promised to forward the document to Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema; later, he said he would pass it to Hun Sen. “I promise to send your requests to the premier....He will decide for everyone how to resolve this problem,” he said.