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Villagers turn to court for aid against Thais

Villagers turn to court for aid against Thais

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TUAN, one of the residents of a village behind the Thai Embassy in Phnom Penh whose access road was forcibly closed by police at the embassy's insistence, runs from police covered in blood.

H

OME owners living adjacent to the new Thai Embassy on Norodom Blvd are turning to

the courts for assistance to secure access to their homes and for compensation for

two houses destroyed by authorities last week.

The embassy claims it owns the road that leads to the community of ramshackle houses

behind its compound and that two houses were on land it had bought.

Its insistence that the road be closed last week for security reasons led to a violent

confrontation between home owners and police and local militia.

George Cooper of Legal Aid Cambodia said staff were researching Cambodian law and

international conventions to see if the embassy is entitled to own land.

Cooper said that Article 44 of the Cambodian Constitution reads: "Only Khmer

legal entities and citizens of Khmer nationality shall have the right to own land."

He said, "There are no exceptions to this rule in the Constitution. A high government

official told us that the king approved the transfer of title to Thailand but under

the Constitution even the king is powerless to vary the Constitution on his own say

so.

"There is no higher law in Cambodia than the Constitution, therefore the Thai

embassy or Thai government holding land title certificates in its name to the disputed

road and to the land under the new embassy is an illegal act."

Meanwhile homeowners in the area are now nursing injuries from their confrontation

with police.

A water cannon was used to disperse protesters - predominantly women and children

- after police had been attacked with molotov cocktails and acid soaked in sawdust.

One of the home owners, Tuan, was kicked and beaten by police and militia as they

ran down the road to the houses.

Eva Galabru of the human rights group Licadho said she witnessed the police attack

the man and it was unjustified.

"I saw very clearly Tuan on the ground being kicked," she said. "Quite

a lot of people displayed marks from beatings, but none as serious as Tuan."

She was also critical of the use of a large group of plain-clothed thugs by officials.

"They were there in some sort of semi-official capacity. Under their shirts

they had some sort of ID.

"As soon as the water cannon stopped spraying, these people ran in front of

the law enforcement officials and beat them [home owners]. They were brandishing

sticks."

One observer at the protest said the men had been hired from Villages 14 and 15 specifically

for this job.

Galabru said she did not support the behavior of the protesters, but the authorities

had handled the matter very poorly.

"We did not endorse the actions of the protesters, particularly their use of

gasoline and rocks to intimidate police," she said. "But it could have

been solved through negotiation without violence on either side.

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