Authorities have freed seven Borei Keila evictees, including two under the age of 18, after they spent 44 days in a small cell in Prey Sar prison for their alleged involvement in violent clashes with police on January 3.
The villagers, who were arrested as more than 200 Borei Keila families protested against development firm Phan Imex’s demolishing of their homes, were “temporarily” released on Friday, but face the prospect of being called back to court.
The evictees face charges of using violence against the authorities; however, Chum Ngan, a representative of the villagers, is confident the charges will be dropped.
“I am optimistic the court will cancel all allegations against them,” she said, without explaining why.
Kin Chhay, 17, spoke yesterday of the conditions the seven detainees faced in a crowded four-by-eight-metre room he said they shared with 44 others. “I was very frightened during the detention,” he said.
The grade 9 student at Bak Tuk high school said he had suffered from “injustice indeed” because his family’s house had been demolished and he had not been able to attend school while in prison.
“I felt unhappy that my education was abandoned during my detention in Prey Sar prison”, he said.
He denied assaulting police and said he had been a bystander to the violence.
An eighth person sent to Prey Sar was released a week after imprisonment because of deteriorating health, while at least two more were released shortly after the clashes and were not sent to prison.
About 100 Borei Keila families who refused to be relocated to villages on the city’s outskirts and in Kandal province were pleased yesterday with the release of their former neighbours, Chum Ngan said.
Borei Keila women protested numerous times following the arrests, demanding the release of the seven detainees.
During one of the protests, outside the Phnom Penh municipal hall on January 11, about 30 women and children were hauled onto a bus and taken to Prey Speu social affairs centre.
They climbed the walls a week later, fled in tuk-tuks and were demonstrating on the streets of Phnom Penh again just days later.
Chum Ngan said the evictees were optimistic yesterday, but would continue to protest until Phan Imex provided them with an adequate solution.
“If the owner of Phan Imex does not implement the contract, we will continue to protest until we receive our flats,” she said. Phan Imex originally agreed to construct 10 six-floor buildings on two hectares of land to house 1,776 displaced families, in exchange for the right to develop the remaining 2.6 hectares.
The company has completed only eight.
A building that evictees were calling “building nine” was being constructed at Borei Keila last week, but U Navy, an employee of Phan Imex, said it would not house evictees.
Am Samath, technical adviser of Adhoc, yesterday welcomed the release of the detainees.
“I think this land dispute at Borei Keila can be ended through the legislative system if Phan Imex does not provide a proper solution for the villagers,” he said.
Phan Imex’s construction of “building number 9” after announcing bankruptcy two years ago signalled that the company had enough capital again to honour its original contract, he said.
Suy Sophan, the owner of Phan Imex, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
Meanwhile, a building was being demolished at Borei Keila over the weekend; however, the Post understands its former occupants had already been provided with flats as compensation.