Less than a week after the government was praised for keeping the peace during mass opposition protests in Phnom Penh, Daun Penh district security guards, in the company of police, used violence to disperse land-eviction protesters yesterday.
Memories of the peaceful protests began to fade as security officials armed with batons clashed with villagers outside City Hall, where about 200 people blocked traffic on Monivong Boulevard.
This followed an earlier clash with police as protesters gathered outside the Peace Palace on Russian Boulevard.
Three villagers, including a 14-year-old girl, were injured in the clashes, while a 34-year-old man – believed to have no connection to the protesters – was arrested after a confrontation with authorities and later released.
The protesters from five communities, including Borei Keila and Boeung Kak, were demanding that Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong honour a promise he made soon after assuming the job in May to resolve long-running land disputes.
Just last week, he told Boeung Kak protesters that 32 land titles were to be awarded in short order once land was demarcated.
“We’ve just come to demand he follows through on his promises – or has he lied?” asked Hor Chenda, 32, from Borei Keila. “He should come meet us, not use violence against us.”
Following the clashes, municipal authorities allowed 10 representatives to negotiate with Socheatvong.
Chan Soveth, senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the governor advised the representatives to stop protesting while City Hall worked to resolve their land disputes.
In a statement yesterday, Adhoc called for the security guards involved in the violence to be punished.
“Daun Penh district security cannot continue to commit violence against civilians and should be disciplined for such acts as they currently act as little more than hired thugs,” the NGO said.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche urged protesters to be patient “because we have only one man working on the [case]”.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL