Land protesters from Preah Vihear province who came to Phnom Penh seeking a resolution to their disputes were brutally beaten by security forces yesterday as they attempted to deliver petitions to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
About 100 people representing 333 families in Choam Ksan district’s Kantuot commune and Tbeng Meanchey district’s Palhal commune marched yesterday morning to the Chinese, Russian and Australian embassies before attempting to deliver a petition to Hun Sen’s cabinet.
Within metres of the premier’s home, the protesters were met by barricades guarded by dozens of police and district security guards, armed with batons, stun guns and shields.
“I do not have a house to live in, there is no school or hospital to go to; they have been cleared. Please give land to all of us,” 5-year-old Mey Kanha shouted tearfully through a loud speaker.
When the group attempted to break through the barricades, the security forces chased them away, violently attacking men, women, children and monks, and destroying a tuk-tuk and protest paraphernalia.
Rights group Licadho, which treated many of the injured protesters, said yesterday evening that at least 18 people had been injured to varying degrees in the violence, with an 18-year-old man who had been beaten on the head by the guards sustaining the most serious injuries.
“When disproportionate violence of this kind is used against peaceful protesters, it perpetuates an atmosphere of fear and intimidation in which people are afraid to claim their rights,” said Licadho director Naly Pilorge.
But City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche defended the security guards’ actions.
The protesters “did not get through the barricades normally; they mixed pure water with acid and threw it on the authorities, which is against the law”, he said. “A handful of people who were not the real victims used bad language to insult the top leaders. It was not a protest, it was an incitement to topple [the government], so we had to strengthen the law.” he said.
No security guards were reported injured and Dimanche was unable to explain his allegations of acid-throwing, which were quickly dismissed by the protesters.
“We did throw water at them but without any acid … and we also did not scold [Hun Sen]; we only asked him to help intervene in the land disputes for us,” said community representative Phan Phoeun.
In a more peaceful protest, more than 200 people from eight communities in danger of losing land due to a railroad project funded by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) protested outside of its offices.
“We will help bring all of your questions or issues that come through ADB to the government and companies involved [so they can be] discussed and resolved,” said ADB country director Eric Sidgwick.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY KHOUTH SOPHAK CHAKRYA AND ALICE CUDDY