THE number of land dispute-related protests so far this year is already more than double the total figure for last year, and the number of protests to have been forcibly broken up by police and military police has also increased, according to a new report from the rights group Adhoc.
The report, released Friday, says that 145 protests stemming from land disputes have been staged so far this year, 17 of which were broken up by police and military police. Adhoc recorded 67 protests last year, six of which were broken up.
Ouch Leng, land programme officer for Adhoc, said 11 of the 17 protests broken up by police so far this year had been held outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh villa, an area that he said police protected particularly fiercely.
“They use violence on villagers, such as using batons, electric batons, protective shields, and guns, because they don’t want protesters to reach in front of the prime minister’s house,” he said.
Touch Naruth, Phnom Penh municipal police chief, acknowledged yesterday that protesters had frequently been removed from outside Hun Sen’s house, but denied that police used violence to break up peaceful protests.
“We have never used violence on them,” he said. “We just carried them from in front of the prime minister’s house and into the truck to [take them] in front of Wat Botum pagoda.”
The capital’s new demonstration zone, which was constructed in accordance with the Law on Nonviolent Demonstrations, is located in a public park along Streets 106 and 108, and is within walking distance of City Hall.
Rights groups have criticised both the new legislation, which was enacted in December last year, and the introduction of designated demonstration areas, saying they would limit the effectiveness of protests.
Ty Dory, chief of the municipal Office of Land Management Affairs, said the zone would come into use soon.
“We have finished construction already,” he said. “We are only waiting for the official inauguration.”