A group of women stripped off their clothes in front of Cambodia’s parliament Tuesday as part of a protest to draw attention to a controversial development project in Phnom Penh.
The 10 women who disrobed down to their underwear were among 100 protesters demanding land titles for residents evicted from the Boeung Kak Lake area, where a private developer granted a land concession is turning the area into a luxury residential project.
“As Cambodian women with dignity we don’t want to be naked, but because of too much suffering we have run out of patience,” said community representative Tep Vanny, who removed her skirt in the protest.
“The officials are working for the rich and powerful and they are leaving us with no choice. We have stripped ourselves to show our suffering,” she said.
The protest is part of a week-long campaign by the Boeng Kak community demanding the authorities drop charges against residents who have spoken out about the issue and award promised land titles to residents who have not received them.
Last year, a decree by President Hun Sen set aside 12.44 hectares (31 acres) of land for the relocation of 794 families whose homes were being demolished in the Boeung Kak area, but residents say 94 of those families have not received their land titles.
Around 20,000 Boeung Kak residents have been evicted from their homes or are at risk of losing them since a Cambodian-Chinese company called Shukaku, owned by a politician from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, was granted a 99-year lease in the area in 2007.
Residents have staged high-profile protests since Shukaku suddenly began draining the lake in 2008.
Tep Vanny, who was briefly arrested along with three other women and charged with defamation and obstruction of public officials at a protest in November, said that the women had removed their clothes, breaking a taboo in Cambodian society, as a last resort to draw attention to the case.
“Cambodian women are gentle, but now we have no patience. When we strip [in protest], it means that we are desperate.”
“We are not embarrassed about what we have done. Those who should feel ashamed are the government,” she said.
Cambodia’s land issues date from the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which banned private property and forced large-scale evacuations and relocations throughout the country.
An estimated 30,000 people a year in Cambodia are driven from farmland or urban areas to make way for real estate developments or mining and agricultural projects.
Elsewhere in Phnom Penh, protests by members of the Borei Keila community, who have opposed the demolition of their homes to make way for a commercial real estate project, culminated in a standoff in January, when riot police were called in to evict hundreds of residents.
In February, two women from Borei Keila removed their clothes in a protest in front of Phnom Penh's city hall.
Reported by Mom Sophon and Samean Yun for RFA’s Khmer service. Translations by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.