By Khuon Narim And Zsombor Peter, Cambodia Daily, Thu, 26 Dec 2013
Security personnel beat up a monk and two civilians outside City in Hall in Phnom Penh yesterday during a second day of protests involving families evicted from the capital’s Boeung Kak lake area in 2008.
Two other people were also injured during clashes outside the municipal headquarters in incidents throughout the day.
In an effort to avoid a repeat of scenes of the day before, when the new group of Boeung Kak protesters blocked the busy Monivong Boulevard, security guards hired by the Daun Penh district and military police began trying to disperse the group – which had also grown to include more well-known Boeung Kak activists – in the morning.
A Post reporter witnessed security personnel push a group of women, then pick them up and forcibly carry them away when they fought back. This prompted a torrent of abuse from a monk, who officers then surrounded, punching and striking him with batons.
Security personnel then beat up a man who tried to come to the monk’s aid.
“I saw them hit the monk, so I went in and tried to stop them,” said Dem Chhorn, 40. “Suddenly they were beating me up. It seemed like there were five or six of them hitting me on the head, neck and body until I was unconscious.”
Another protester, Suong Vesna, said he was struck in the jaw and leg when he tried to film the violence.
“I think they wanted to take my phone, because they are afraid of what can be uploaded to Facebook,” he said. The violence did not deter the protesters, however, whose numbers swelled in size after lunch.
Monks and civilians blocked Monivong Boulevard at about 1:40pm, and a number of people struck police barriers and broke the glass of an information board at the front of the building.
Some protesters tried to rush inside, an attempt that was thwarted by other guards. The crowd began to disperse at about 2pm.
The new group of Boeung Kak protesters were evicted from their homes in 2008 and forced to accept compensation and relocation they now say is insufficient. City spokesman Long Dimanche did not comment on the crackdown, but said officials at City Hall felt intimidated by the protesters.
“The protest which blocks City Hall and its officials is wrong,” he said. “It is anarchy … and these people must be punished.”
About 100 former Boeung Kak residents and supporters shut Monivong Boulevard to traffic for hours yesterday as they burned tyres and demanded additional compensation for 2008 agreements with the municipality that they have come to see as a raw deal.
“We are demanding downtown shelters,” said Sea Nareth, a representative of the community, which was forced from Boeung Kak to Phnom Penh’s outskirts in Dangkor district in 2008. “Our lives are damn difficult, and we cannot wait any longer for settlement from the municipality.”
Contracts the former Boeung Kak residents signed were unfair and undervalued their homes, said demonstrator Chhem Chhen, 65. Despite the deals being signed five years ago, the municipality owes more, he argued.
“We are demanding extra compensation, ranging from $8,000 to $20,000,” said Chhen, whose home was knocked down. “If there is no settlement, I will go and sleep on my land.”
The group – which is not affiliated with the usual Boeung Kak protesters – represented hundreds of families who were pressured in 2008 to accept either new houses on the capital’s outskirts, new apartments and $500, or $8,500 in exchange for their homes.
Land deals with Boeung Kak residents came after the municipality signed a 133-hectare economic land concession with Shukaku Inc in 2007 for $79 million. The move affected about 4,200 families.
Among the group demonstrating yesterday were members of the Independent Monks Network. Member Prim Huon said he supported the former Boeung Kak residents because, he asserted, many were pressured to sign unfair deals and lost their livelihoods as a result.
“If they were well-off, they would not demonstrate to get more compensation,” Huon said.
The demonstrators arrived at Phnom Penh City Hall on Monivong Boulevard yesterday morning, demanding a meeting with municipal governor Pa Socheatvong. The group initially blocked traffic between 9:30 and 10:30am.
After a 10-minute respite, the group continued blocking the road when Socheatvong declined to meet the group. Protesters continued blocking the road for hours, bringing tyres into the road at about 2pm and burning them.
Over loudspeakers, police said they would not interfere with the demonstration, but pleaded with protesters not to seal off the thoroughfare.
Before the demonstrators put out the piles of tyres they set alight at about 7pm, some monks sprinkled water on one of them, cursing the officials involved in the relocation.
More than 30 families in the capital’s Boeung Kak community are still waiting for official land titles six weeks after City Hall officials measured ground at the site of a years-long land dispute, villagers have said.
The Phnom Penh Municipality began measuring land in villages 6, 22 and 24 in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune on November 6.
According to villager Heng Mom, a city official told her at the time that titles for 32 families would follow within two weeks.
Mom told the Post yesterday, however, that documentation had not yet been issued and a city official had told her again last week that the titles were still some weeks away.
“He told me that in at least two or three weeks the Phnom Penh authority will call us to collect the land titles,” she said.
Mom added that the official, whom she declined to name, had already sent paperwork to Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong for approval.
Thousands of people have been evicted from Boeung Kak to make way for a $79 million commercial development proposed by a company headed by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin.
Even after Prime Minister Hun Sen agreed in 2011 to return 12.44 hectares of land to hundreds of families left at Boeung Kak, district authorities bulldozed eights homes, including Mom’s in Village 22.
Phan Chhunreth, another villager awaiting a title after her land was measured early last month, said members of her community would go to City Hall next week seeking answers from officials.
Some activists from Boeung Kak have rallied this week as part of demonstrations by the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party.
Long Dimanche, City Hall spokesman, said municipal officials were busy monitoring those opposition rallies.
“But we’re working on [the Boeung Kak] issue, and I expect the land titles will be available to them in the next three weeks,” he said.
About 40 more families say they are still owed land titles at Boeung Kak or the land’s equivalent in compensation.