Thirteen Boeung Kak women, including a 67-year-old, were arrested and forced into police vans and trucks yesterday as about 200 Phnom Penh municipal police and security officers cracked down on a 100-strong demonstration at the site.
The group, which included Boeung Kak lake residents, evictees and their friends, had gathered in support of 18 families from village 1 who had threatened to build homes where their houses stood before their demolition in 2010.
Only one of the families from Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune carried through with the attempt to rebuild yesterday – using basic tools to erect a simple wooden frame that was quickly torn down by police.
Most of the Boeung Kak crowd spent their time singing songs that reminded authorities of their plight.
The mood changed, however, when officers carrying shields and sticks were accused of pushing a woman to the ground.
Those arrested as tensions flared included Nget Khun, 67, and villagers’ representative Tep Vanny, who shouted “please look after my kids” to her mother-in-law from the back of a police pick-up truck before she and five other women were driven away.
Also caught in the confrontation was Khek Chan Raksmei, 32, from village 22, who fainted after three security guards arrested her and forced her toward a police van.
She was soon released and given medical treatment.
The 13 arrested women were last night being held at the municipal police station; it was unclear what charges, if any, they faced.
NGOS condemned the “unjust” arrests and called for the women’s immediate release.
Um Samath, technical adviser at human rights group Licadho, said the Phnom Penh municipal authority’s decision to use force rather than engage villagers in peaceful negotiations was a huge mistake.
“This action is a serious human rights abuse,” he said. “On behalf of civil society organisations, we cannot accept this.”
Speaking to the Post at Boeung Kak, Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said the authorities needed to release the 13 women and speed up attempts to resolve housing problems at Boeung Kak, including by marking the 12.44 hectares of land the government promised to give back to residents.
“The use of violence and arrests against peaceful demonstrators is unacceptable, yet we are seeing more and more of it every day,” Sia Phearum said in a statement released by NGOS including HRTF and Licadho.
Ee Sarom, a representative of housing NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said the incident again proved violence would not resolve the dispute.
“The crackdown this morning highlights the authorities’ continued lack of tolerance of peaceful gatherings and expression by Cambodian citizens,” he said.
Ly Channary, 39, a member of one of the 18 families who had vowed to rebuild their homes, said they had not received compensation after being “illegally” evicted in 2010.
Phnom Penh governor Kep Chutema granted a 99-year lease to Cambodian People’s Party senator Lao Meng Khin, the owner of development firm Shukaku, in 2007, clearing the way for a $72 million development.
Phnom Penh municipal police chief Touch Naruth, deputy municipal police chief Poung Malay and Daun Penh district deputy governor Sok Penh Vuth declined to comment.