Shukaku pushes forward at Boeung Kak

December 3, 2014

By: Shane Worrell and Mom Kunthear,Phnom Penh Post, Wed, 3 December 2014

Local developer Shukaku will step up construction of its controversial Boeung Kak lake development project this month, beginning work on a drainage system and corporate office, a spokeswoman told the Post yesterday.

Quashing speculation the project had been abandoned, the company also said that it could have better managed the relocation process that led to some 20,000 people being evicted from Boeung Kak in 2008.

An updated master plan of Shukaku’s Phnom Penh City Centre project – an “eco-city” set to include hotels, housing, a business centre and more – was approved by City Hall this year, said Amu Pillay, the company’s head of corporate communications and public relations.

“There are no financial issues, and the main projects are well under way and on schedule,” Pillay told the Post. “The construction of drainage work will start in [December] 2014.… The entire drainage works is expected to complete by 2017.”

While a completion date has not been set for the entire project, a roads and utilities plan has also gained approval from City Hall, while a design for a “central park” will be drafted this month with a view toward building it next year, Pillay said.

“This clearly shows that we have progressed steadily within this year,” she said.

The revelation from a company that has previously dealt little with the media comes amid calls from the community and rights groups for authorities to release seven Boeung Kak lake women from Prey Sar prison.

The women were sentenced last month to one year in jail a day after they blocked the road outside City Hall in protest against the routine flooding of their homes. Four others, including one more woman from Boeung Kak, were tried and imprisoned a day after.

Children rest in a pipe next to makeshift shelters in 2012 on the outskirts of Phnom Penh after their families were evicted from the Boeung Kak lake community to make way for development. Heng Chivoan

“[In] hindsight, we could have done better to manage the situation,” she said.

Shukaku, Pillay said, is now focused on the benefits that its completed development will bring to Phnom Penh.

“It is … designed to be an eco-city where the community can use the Central Park for recreation and enjoy the greenery,” she said. “It is meant to be a park where people can converge and organise community activities, which is clearly lacking in the current Phnom Penh landscape. Overall, this development will also create plenty of job opportunities.”

Shukaku officially launched its development in 2011, showcasing plans for a satellite city, business centre, department stores, conference halls, hotels and apartments.

The company partnered with Chinese company Erdos Hong Jun Investment to form the property development firm Shukaku Erdos. However, the firms parted ways, leading to rumours that the development was in doubt.

The two firms, Pillay said, had run into trouble when Erdos Hong Jun submitted a plan to build luxury homes – each worth between $4 million and $5 million – on almost 50 per cent of the land.

“[T]hey realised the project will run into financial chaos.… We were advised that the project will put us in financial ruin,” she said, adding the Chinese company eventually pulled out for “financial reasons” and the master plan was overhauled.

In response to the drainage development, Boeung Kak representative Chan Puthisak said yesterday that he welcomed anything that would stop houses being flooded but had heard nothing from Shukaku or City Hall.

“We’d be so happy if this system helped stop flooding … [but] our concerns with this drainage system are whether they build it to standard. I’m worried they just announce it, but it’s not a good system.”

Puthisak also urged City Hall to show the community any plans it has to improve drainage, something Dimanche declined to comment on.

“We are waiting to see their project,” Puthisak said.

 


Eviction Deadline Passes, But Community Remains

December 1, 2014

By: Ben Sokhean, The Cambodia Daily,  December 1, 2014

Despite threats of eviction from local authorities, residents of a village in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district said Sunday that a deadline set by City Hall to vacate the area came and went without incident on Friday.

In a notice distributed on November 21, district officials informed the more than 600 people living in Kilometr Pram Muoy commune’s Boeng Chhuk village to leave the village by Friday to make room for a planned road expansion that would better serve developers in the area—or face eviction.

“The deadline has passed, but the authorities have not come yet,” said villager Horn Hou, 37.

“We are really worried about the eviction, but we are willing to die on our land and in our homes.” District governor Thuy Sokhan, who issued the notice on behalf of City Hall, refused to comment Sunday.

Sok Sambath, the commune chief, said authorities would inspect the village today.

“We know a lot of residents live there, but if they do not respect the authorities’ notice, we will take action,” he said.

 


Two Detained Outside National Assembly During Protest

November 29, 2014

By: Sek Odom and Holly Robertson | November 29, 2014

A volunteer from housing-rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut (STT) and a tuk-tuk driver were detained by district security guards Friday morning during a protest outside the National Assembly calling for the release of 19 recently arrested activists, monks and opposition figures.

About 200 protesters from embattled communities in Phnom Penh, Kompong Chhnang and Preah Vihear gathered at the Assembly, where they attempted to submit a petition asking for lawmakers’ intervention in securing the release of the imprisoned activists—a group that includes nine members of the Boeng Kak lake community.

The NGO volunteer was inside the driver’s tuk-tuk, which was broadcasting messages over a loudspeaker, when Chamkar Mon district security guards detained the pair at about 8 a.m. before releasing them around midday, according to Ee Sarom, STT’s executive director.

“I think [they were] clearly trying to threaten us and intimidate us to make us not to support the local community,” Mr. Sarom said.

However, Chamkar Mon district governor Prum Somkhann said the pair’s detention lasted only an hour and was necessary because noise from the loudspeaker was disrupting a meeting between Prime Minister Hun Sen and opposition leader Sam Rainsy inside the Assembly.


Cambodian-Born US Politician Joins Prison Protest

November 24, 2014

By:  CHRIS MUELLER AND MECH DARA, The Cambodia Daily, 24 November 2014

Three weeks after becoming the first Cambodian-American legislator in the U.S., Rady Mom joined hundreds of protesters in Phnom Penh on Sunday to demand the release of 17 imprisoned activists, opposition figures and monks from Prey Sar prison.

Mr. Mom, 45, who was elected as a Massachusetts state representative in the November 4 U.S. midterm elections, arrived in Cambodia last week for a two-week visit to the country.

Dar Rachana, 12, protests outside Phnom Penh's Prey Sar prison on Sunday while holding a poster of her grandmother, Nget Khun, who, along with six fellow activists from the Boeng Kak community, was sentenced to a year in prison on November 11. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Dar Rachana, 12, protests outside Phnom Penh’s Prey Sar prison on Sunday while holding a poster of her grandmother, Nget Khun, who, along with six fellow activists from the Boeng Kak community, was sentenced to a year in prison on November 11. (Satoshi Takahashi)

 

“I feel pity for my brothers and sisters,” a visibly upset Mr. Mom told some 200 protesters outside the maximum-security prison before passing the microphone to his spokesman, Khem Chantha.

“We call, through newspapers and the media, for the government to release our brothers and sisters,” Mr. Chantha told the crowd. “Their crimes are not really serious—blocking traffic is not a penal offense.”

Seven activists from the embattled Boeng Kak community were sentenced to one year in prison on November 11 after being convicted under the Traffic Law of obstructing traffic after they placed a bed frame in the middle of Monivong Boulevard. The stunt was intended to bring attention to flooding in their neighborhood.

The protesters and Mr. Mom hoped to meet with the 17 prisoners—a group that includes 11 activists, three CNRP figures and three monks—but were not allowed to enter the detention facility.

Anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, also from the Boeng Kak community, said that while disappointed at not being allowed inside, the protesters were heartened by Mr. Mom’s presence Sunday.

“His support encourages and inspires us to fight for justice, and shows we are not alone,” Ms. Bopha said. “We were happy to see him participate with us to demand the release of the 17 who have been unjustly imprisoned.”

Prior to joining Sunday’s demonstration, Mr. Mom met with Prime Minister Hun Sen on Thursday and opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Saturday. He plans to meet with a number of other CPP and CNRP officials throughout the next week and a half.

While visiting a school inside Phnom Penh’s Svay Pope pagoda Sunday afternoon, Mr. Mom said that despite taking part in the morning’s demonstration, the purpose of his trip was not political.

“The first [reason] was to have a little bit of vacation time,” he said. “I also really wanted to have a connection—see the country where I was born—from a different point of view.”

Mr. Mom said his meeting with Mr. Hun Sen last week was a way for him to view Cambodia through the eyes of the man who has ruled the country for nearly 30 years.

“[The meeting] was to meet a man, a prime minister, who runs this great nation…to get a little bit of insight on how he sees the country,” he said.

Massachusetts state representative-elect Rady Mom speaks to reporters at a school inside Phnom Penh's Svay Pope pagoda Sunday. (Neou Vannarin/The Cambodia Daily)

Massachusetts state representative-elect Rady Mom speaks to reporters at a school inside Phnom Penh’s Svay Pope pagoda Sunday. (Neou Vannarin/The Cambodia Daily)

When asked if his view of the prime minister had changed after speaking with protesters and opposition lawmakers—who accuse Mr. Hun Sen’s government of orchestrating some of the arrests—Mr. Mom said he did not know enough about the political situation to comment.

“I don’t’ know the whole story of all that,” Mr. Mom said. “I’m more concerned [about] where I came from.”

Mr. Mom was elected this month as the state representative for the 18th Middlesex district in Lowell, Massachusetts. Lowell has the U.S.’s second largest Cambodian-American population, numbering about 30,000.

Mr. Mom arrived in the U.S. with his family in 1982 after fleeing the Khmer Rouge regime and spending several years in a Thai refugee camp.

On Sunday, Mr. Mom said he hopes his story will inspire not only his constituents, but young Cambodians as well.

“I went to the States in 1982 without a word of English,” he said. “I want to inspire men and women…whether that’s in the States or here, to inspire them to step up, take pride in what they want to see changed. Don’t just scream out, but step up and do something about it.”

 


UN Envoy, NGOs Rebuke Gov’t Over Recent Spate of Arrests

November 19, 2014

By: Kuch Naren , The Cambodia Daily, 19 November 2014

The U.N.’s human rights envoy to Cambodia on Tuesday joined a group of local NGOs in criticizing a spate of recent arrests of activists, monks and opposition figures.

Ten female land rights activists, three Buddhist monks and two opposition CNRP figures were all arrested last week. Of the 15, the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has already convicted 11 of them in two snap trials, sentencing them each to a year in jail.

Anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha and other residents of Phnom Penh's Boeng Kak neighborhood protest outside the British Embassy on Tuesday. (Satoshi Takahashi)

Anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha and other residents of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak neighborhood protest outside the British Embassy on Tuesday. (Satoshi Takahashi)

U.N. envoy Surya Subedi on Tuesday urged the government to respect the law while calling on the country’s courts to exercise their authority independent of outside influences.

“It saddens me to see the courts being used again and again as a tool of the executive,” he said in a statement. “The lack of judicial independence is one of the central obstacles to achieving the just, inclusive society that Cambodians strive for.”

“Those who seek to exercise fundamental freedoms can be arrested, charged and convicted, on little or no material grounds. For such cases, justice in the heavily backlogged judicial system can be remarkably swift,” Mr. Subedi added.

Six NGOs also held a press conference Tuesday to condemn the arrests, calling the government’s crackdown on its critics a serious human rights violation.

Latt Khy, who heads the land and livelihoods program for rights group Adhoc, said the courts were clearly under political pressure as the charges brought against the activists were “baseless.”

“We, the civil society groups, believe all the people arrested, convicted, and imprisoned did not commit wrongdoing as charged,” he said.

Son Chum Chuon, program director for the Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association, said the forced defrocking and imprisonment of three ethnic Khmer Krom monks was a violation of Buddhist principles and had left many Khmer Krom activists fearful of joining any more protests.

“The arrest and detention of the three Khmer Krom monks is a move to crack down on activists to prevent them from participating in social work,” he said.

The Khmer Krom hail from what is present-day southern Vietnam. Many of those living in Cambodia feel colonial France unjustly ceded the area to Vietnam and advocate for its return to Cambodia.

Suon Bunsak, executive director of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said the groups would seek a meeting with lawmakers from the National Assembly’s human rights commission to push for the immediate release of those jailed last week.

On Tuesday morning, about 200 supporters of those arrested marched to 15 embassies to bring attention to their plight. They submitted petitions to the U.S. Embassy, the European Union delegation and offices of the U.N. asking them to put pressure on the Cambodian government to release the group.

 


At the speed of ‘justice’

November 12, 2014

By: Khouth Sophak Chakrya,Phnom Penh Post, 12 November 2014

Muncipal security guards arrest an activist Buddhist monk during a protest in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. AFP

Seven Boeung Kak lake activists, all of them women, were convicted and sentenced to one year in prison yesterday – just a day after being arrested during a protest. Five of them were members of the so-called “Boeung Kak 13” imprisoned in similar circumstances in 2012.

Yesterday’s decision sparked outrage from rights groups, who drew comparisons to that case.

“I sentence them each to one year in prison and fine them 2 million riel [about $500],” Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge Mong Mony Sorphea announced after a trial that lasted less than four hours.

The women’s case began at about 3pm after they were charged under Article 78 of the Traffic Law for using a wooden bed to block Monivong Boulevard outside Phnom Penh’s City Hall. The penalties are the maximum that can be given under the law.

The seven are Tep Vanny, Nget Khun, Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy, Phan Chhunreth, Norng Sreng and Song Srey Leap.

Vanny, Khun, Chantha, Chhunreth and Srey Leap were among the 13 imprisoned for more than a month after a whirlwind three-hour trial in 2012. On that occasion, they had been arrested two days earlier for protesting.

Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said he was shocked at yesterday’s trial and verdict. He added that he felt ashamed at how his country’s courts were acting.

“Cambodia’s courts are not justice for all, they are not independent,” he said. “The government is using the courts. The courts have no spirit.”

The defendants yesterday gave testimony but presented no witnesses. During her brief statement, Vanny admitted that the activists had brought the bed to the protest.

“We carried it as a symbol that our homes and villages have flooded and we have nowhere to stay,” she said. “But we did not block traffic.”

Nhem Sao Nol, Daun Penh police deputy chief, disagreed when giving evidence for the prosecution. The protesters had intentionally caused a traffic jam, he said.

A traffic police officer who gave testimony accused the defendants of climbing up and hanging from a crane.

After just a few hours, the prosecutor, Seang Sok, said that the court had seen enough to convict the women.

“According to the evidence, including videos and photos that show illegal activity, I ask the judge to punish them,” he said.

When the judge handed down his verdict, cries of “injustice” could be heard from the women.

“Why did you open this hearing if you are just going to listen to the accusations and give us the maximum penalty?” Vanny screamed.

Ham Sunrith, the women’s lawyer, said that under the strike law, the women had every right to peacefully demonstrate.

“Authorities can … temporarily arrest them until the protest disperses, but they cannot imprison them,” he said.

Am Sam Ath, from rights group Licadho, said his NGO deeply regretted the verdict.

Security guards arrest a land-rights activist from Boeung Kak lakeside community during a protest in front of the municipal court yesterday. AFP

“The people need the authorities to help,” he said, referring to the flooding that villagers blame on the filling in of Boeung Kak lake. “This is their response.”

Four other people – three activists and Suen Hai, a monk – were arrested outside the court during a morning protest.

The Boeung Kak community has battled authorities for years over the eviction of thousands of families to make way for a government-linked development that has yet to materialise.

Only several dozen families are still waiting for land titles owed to them after Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2011 reclaimed part of the concession awarded to ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku company in 2007.

One of those imprisoned yesterday, Nget Khun, a woman in her seventies, last month watched municipal authorities mark out land for her long-awaited title.

“I won’t stop protesting until City Hall resolves the land disputes for all the families in Boeung Kak,” she said at the time. She has yet to receive the document.

Protesters, led by Vanny, have broadened their activism to encompass a range of disputes, earning them the contemptuous title of “professional protesters” from authorities.

Just last week, Vanny and others were involved in a protest in Koh Kong province supporting villagers in dispute with Ly Yong Phat’s Special Economic Zone, blocking a busy bridge before a clash with police.

When the Boeung Kak 13 were released, their convictions remained. Their sentences, all at least two years, were suspended. This led rights groups, including Licadho and the HRTF, to suggest the women remained “at continued threat of re-arrest”.

Despite this, many have continued to protest. Four of those convicted yesterday – Vanny, Chhunreth, Chhorvy and Srey Leap – were briefly arrested in January during a ban on public demonstrations.

The 13’s imprisonment in 2012 earned the government a large dose of criticism and gained international attention. Less than two weeks before the group’s appeal, Hillary Clinton, then US Secretary of State, used a private meeting to urge Foreign Minister Hor Namhong to release the women.

Phearum, from HRTF, said he hoped similar support would be shown over coming days and weeks.

“It will begin with Cambodians and then spread,” he said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY SHANE WORRELL


One-year jail terms for B Kak protesters

November 11, 2014

By: Khouth Sophak Chakrya,Phnom Penh Post, 11 November 2014

District security guards arrest a Boeung Kak land rights activist in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court on Tuesday as she protests the previous day’s arrest of seven fellow activists. Those seven were sentenced to one-year jail sentences in little more than 24 hours after their arrests. AFP

SEVEN Boeung Kak lake activists, all of them women, have been convicted and sentenced to one year in jail – just a day after being arrested during a protest.

Five of the group were members of the so-called “Boeung Kak 13” imprisoned in similar circumstances in 2012.

“I sentence them each to one year in prison and fine them 2 million riel (about $500),” the presiding Phnom Penh Municipal Court judge told the courtroom.

The seven women stood trial this afternoon after being charged under Article 78 of the traffic law just hours earlier for allegedly blocking Monivong Boulevard outside City Hall in Phnom Penh yesterday.

The seven are Tep Vanny, Nget Khun, Kong Chantha, Bo Chhorvy, Phan Chhunreth, Norng Sreng and Song Srey Leap.

Of those, Vanny, Khun, Chantha, Chhunreth and Srey Leap were among 13 imprisoned for more than a month for protesting in 2012.

Four other people – three activists and Suen Hai, a monk from Stung Meanchey pagoda – were arrested this morning outside the municipal court during a protest calling for the group’s release.

Activists convicted in one day trial

Protesters also made their presence known outside the US Embassy.

During Monday’s protest at City Hall, protesters blocked the road, demanding authorities fix the sewage system in their villages to prevent flooding.
“Our houses get flooded every time it rains and . . . we worry about electric shock,” Vanny said before her arrest.

The community has battled authorities for years over the eviction of thousands of families from Boeung Kak to make way for a government-linked development that has yet to materialise.

Several dozen families are still waiting for land titles owed to them after Prime Minister Hun Sen in 2011 reclaimed part of the concession awarded to ruling party Senator Lao Meng Khin’s Shukaku company in 2007.


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