About 20 families violently evicted from their homes by Daun Penh district police and private security forces employed by local firm Shukaku Inc have said they will stage a protest demanding compensation from the developer.
On Friday, approximately 50 police and private security guards wielding weapons, including electric batons, demolished about 20 homes in Group 30, part of the lakeside’s Village 24.
The families are now living along a roadside in the Boeung Kak development zone and say they will not leave the area unless authorities and the developer agree to pay individual households US$8,500 in compensation.
Authorities accused the villagers of building additional houses to secure compensation payouts from city authorities.
Moa Bunthan, 41, who was evicted on Friday, rejected the accusations, saying his family had been living beside the lake since 2001 and that between 2005 and 2006 he and 18 other villagers had received microfinance poverty reduction loans from the Council of Ministers’ National Committee for Population and Development.
The development fund allowed villagers to borrow 1.5 million riels ($370) with repayments to be made over 10 years.
“We have still not paid off our debt,” Moa Bunthan said. “We will stay here until we are paid $8,500 compensation.”
Mann Chhoeun, vice-president of the committee, today confirmed the villagers had received microfinance loans, saying: “I really pity them and I hope the authority will provide a resolution for them.”
Rights groups claim more than 4,000 families are set to make way for the controversial lakeside development.
Heng Hoeum, 54, now living along the roadside in Village 24, said today that the villagers were struggling to live in their current situation.
“We will die on the roadside if the authorities and developers don’t agree to pay us compensation and give us justice,” he said.
Also on Friday, Sovan Philong, a Post photographer, had his camera confiscated and was manhandled by police while photographing the demolition of families’ homes.
His two cameras were returned following intervention from NGOs, fellow journalists and villagers at the scene.
Though his camera was returned, police made him delete all his photos showing the forced removals – most of which were later recovered.
An NGO worker who did not wish to be identified said many of the security guards working for Shukaku Inc on Friday were off-duty soldiers and police.
“What happened on Friday is a good reflection of the lack of delineation between who acts for the government and private industry,” the worker said.
The worker added that the behaviour of the authorities at Boeung Kak provided some insight into the regular intimidation and repression of villagers.
“It is important for us to understand that what happened on Friday is what Boeung Kak people have had to face every day since 2008.”
Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith said yesterday that the incident was a case of mistaken identity and denied police had been involved in the altercation.
“The police could not arrest a journalist who was working to collect information or taking pictures at a public place,” Khieu Kanharith said.
“In the case of Boeung Kak lake, security guards were involved in actions against The Phnom Penh Post’s photographer, not the police.”
He said complaints should be lodged against the specific guards responsible rather than against Shukaku.
Daun Penh governor Sok Sambath and deputy governor Sok Penhvuth were not available for comment yesterday. ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY REBECCA PUDDY