ByKhoun Narim And Laurent Crothers, The Cambodia Daily, 17 June 2014
Fourteen families evicted from Boeung Kak were left disappointed again yesterday when Phnom Penh’s governor ignored their calls to increase the size of land plots authorities had offered them.
During a three-hour meeting, Governor Pa Socheatvong held firm on a 2011 decision that the families would receive 4-by-18-metre plots of land in reparation for land they once owned at Boeung Kak, where construction crews levelled homes and dredged the earth in 2010.
“When I heard the decision, I nearly fainted at the meeting table,” said Hong Sokkheng, 49, a representative for the families.
“My land is 9,600 square metres and was flooded with sand and I received no compensation.”
In tears after the decision, Ly Channary said the plots offered were unacceptable for her and the 13 other families.
“We, the 14 families, had at least 2,000 square metres for each family,” Channary explained. “So we cannot accept this solution.”
A draft US law that would require the World Bank to regularly report to congress about the condition of families displaced or still living in the Boeung Kak lake area was approved Wednesday by the House of Representatives.
The bill includes language that specifically requires the World Bank’s executive director to give periodic reports to the US Congress about the bank’s progress in restoring the livelihoods of residents displaced due to failures in the bank-funded Land Management and Administration Project. The bill will now move to the Senate.
“On behalf of the Boeung Kak villagers, we are grateful to the US House of Representatives for deciding to put pressure on the World Bank to urge a solution for our community,” Boeung Kak activist Tep Vanny said last night.
The bill’s approval in the House is a victory for Boeung Kak residents and activists, said Eang Vuthy, executive director of rights group Equitable Cambodia. “This bill is clearly a benefit to … the community,” he said. “I think the US government has the intention to monitor this problem.”
Language in a previous draft version of the bill called for the World Bank to discontinue all funding in Cambodia until people displaced by the project are fully compensated or another amenable solution is reached, Vuthy said.
The World Bank stopped loaning to Cambodia in 2011, after an 18-month investigation into the government’s expulsion of Boeung Kak residents from their homes to make way for a large-scale development project carried out by a company headed by ruling party senator Lao Meng Khin.
Communications officer Saroeun Bou said yesterday that the World Bank was currently “undertaking public consultations with stakeholders to inform the development of the planned Interim Strategy Note (ISN) for the future partnership between Cambodia and the World Bank Group”.
In a joint statement released after the bill gained US House approval, David Pred, managing associate of Inclusive Development International, lauded it. “When the Bank’s management scrapped its remedial action plan and stopped reporting to the Board about it, they seemed to have thought they could brush the Boeung Kak case under the carpet and quietly go back to business as usual in Cambodia,” Pred said.
“Now they will need to think twice.”
The first real attempt to test a new ban on public demonstrations was answered swiftly yesterday morning as five representatives of the Boeung Kak lake community were arrested while attempting to deliver a petition to the French embassy.
At about 8:30am, activists Tep Vanny, Yorm Bopha, Phan Chhunreth, Bo Chhorvy and Song Srey Leap were roughly shoved into a van by plainclothes officers and Daun Penh district security guards and driven to Phnom Penh Municipal Police headquarters on the outskirts of town.
The five, who insisted their delivery of the petition did not constitute a demonstration, were released after about eight hours in detention, during which they were “advised” by officials.
Vanny’s husband, Ou Kong, characterised the arrest of his wife and the other representatives as yet another act of intimidation against the Boeung Kak community.
“The crackdown shows that the government authorities are obviously in a bad mood since the people are standing up against the unfairness in the society, and it also shows the fear of the government over losing support from the people,” he said.
Municipal Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, however, maintained that there had been no charges, and that police had simply detained the activists to give them some advice.
“To me, [police] did not dare to charge them or send them to the court; they just advised them. But if you want the details, you should contact Phnom Penh Municipal Police officials,” he said.
Chuon Narin, deputy Phnom Penh police chief, could not be reached for comment yesterday.
The Ministry of Interior on Saturday issued an injunction against protests, saying in a statement that “demonstrations through public meetings, [or] marching is postponed temporarily until the security situation and public order is guaranteed”.
However, Boeung Kak activist Kong Chantha maintained yesterday that there had been only 10 people in the group, and they had been walking quietly – without any signs or posters – to deliver their petition, which asked the embassy to intervene in the case of fellow activist Chan Puthisak, who was arrested while observing a garment protest last Thursday.
“They tried to ask for information from the authorities, but they did not tell us where they detained our activist [Puthisak]. We were so worried about our activist’s safety, we decided to make up a petition and expected to file it at the French embassy in order to help us find and free our activist,” she said.
The document was later delivered without incident in the presence of several human rights organisations.
Just before 5pm, the five activists were released after agreeing to thumbprint a contract saying they would refrain from protesting temporarily – not indefinitely, as the first draft of the contract had stipulated, Vanny said.
“The authorities asked us and advised us about the new Phnom Penh Municipal Hall regulations, which do not allow gatherings or protests, which possibly cause problems in society,” Vanny said. “After that, we promised not to gather for the time being. Then, they freed us at 4:45pm.”
Police also informed the group of the whereabouts of Puthisak, saying he was being held in a prison in Kampong Cham, Vanny added.
Local NGO Community Legal Education Center told the Post yesterday that all 23 protesters arrested on Thursday and Friday had been sent to Correctional Centre 3 in Kampong Cham province.
Rights groups yesterday decried the arrests as a gross violation – especially given that it wasn’t a full-fledged demonstration, said Sia Phearum, president of the Housing Rights Task Force.
“We are so sorry about the arrest of the five women that was conducted by the government authorities when those women hadn’t even set out to protest,” he said.
Nay Vanda, deputy head of the human rights monitoring program at Adhoc, called it an example of “illegal arrest and illegal detention”.
“As a human rights activist, I strongly condemn the arrests,” Vanda said.
“I appeal to all victims in Cambodia to demand the rights … that they are losing,” he added. “This is the right time to stand up.”
Five land rights activists from the former Boeng Kak lake community, on their way to deliver a petition to the French Embassy on Monday morning, were forced into a van by municipal security forces, taken to Phnom Penh police headquarters and detained for more than eight hours before being released without charge.
The detentions come just days after the government cleared out an opposition protest camp and announced that freedom of assembly would be suspended indefinitely claiming the CNRP was inciting social disorder.
At about 8 a.m., witnesses said, a group of six women on Monivong Boulevard, including well-known activists Tep Vanny and Yorm Bopha, were surrounded by more than 40 plain-clothes men and district security guards —most wearing motorcycle helmets—and bundled into an unmarked van.
“We arrested them because they planned to march and submit a petition letter to the French Embassy without informing City Hall,” municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said.
“We took action in accordance with the law,” he said, explaining that by walking across the city to deliver the petition calling on France to suspend some of its military aid to Cambodia, the women were conducting an illegal march, as they did not provide proper notice to authorities.
Kong Chantha, 45, who was with the activists but escaped arrest, said that she witnessed Sok Penhvuth, deputy governor of Daun Penh district, shouting orders to the men to grab the women.
Mok Chito, acting Phnom Penh police chief, confirmed that Daun Penh district security guards, not police officers, had taken the women.
After being told to follow government orders to halt public protests, the group of women, which also included Song Srey Leap, Phan Chhunreth and Bo Chhorvy, was released at about 4:30 p.m.
“Police asked me why I took part in a protest. I told them that I did not protest, I just tried to submit a letter to the French Embassy to ask for the release of 10 people, including Vorn Pov,” Mr. Vanny said.
Following a confrontation between garment factory workers and the 911 paratrooper unit outside the Yakjin factory in Phnom Penh’s Pur Senchey district on Thursday, soldiers beat and detained 10 of the demonstrators and their whereabouts are currently unknown.
Among the detained is Vorn Pov, the outspoken president of the Independent Democracy of Informal Economy Association, an organization of informal workers including tuk-tuk drivers.
Ms. Vanny said that she had aimed to deliver the petition calling for the release of the 10 to the French Embassy because she believed that France provided funds to the 911 unit.
However, Nicolas Baudouin, first secretary at the French Embassy, said, “We are not providing funds to the 911 unit.”
Ms. Vanny said that although the Boeng Kak activists will temporarily stop their demonstrations, which have been ongoing since municipal authorities attempted to evict them in 2009, they would eventually resume again.
“We will continue to protest someday to demand justice and human rights,” she said.
“I think that the arrest at this time is meant to break the spirit of the people because they [the government] wants to close down human rights and democracy,” Ms. Vanny added.
Both City Hall and the Interior Ministry issued statements on Saturday announcing that freedom of assembly, a constitutional right, would be suspended until further notice.