At least six people were seriously injured Wednesday in clashes between about 100 villagers demanding land compensation and 300 security personnel in front of the home of Cambodian Prime Minister Hun Sen, activists said.
According to villager representative Tep Vanny, the evictees from Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak lake community had protested earlier in front of the Ministry of Justice over the dispute and called for the release of a jailed fellow activist.
“No officials from the ministry came out to meet the villagers, so they decided to go to Hun Sen’s house,” Tep Vanny told RFA’s Khmer Service.
When the mostly-female villagers tried to enter Hun Sen’s residence to confront the prime minister, “around 300 [security personnel] surrounded the villagers and detained at least three of them,” she said.
The action by Phnom Penh municipal police and Daun Penh district security guards, who were armed with riot shields and batons, led to a confrontation between the two sides that quickly escalated into violence, activists said.
Initial reports said that at least six villagers were injured in the melee.
They include Nget Khun, who suffered ten bruises across her body; Sem Thouch, whose legs became swollen from a beating; Ngok Sophat, who required surgery to set a broken arm; and another woman who was knocked unconscious.
Lous Sovath, the husband of jailed activist Yorm Bopha, said he was also severely beaten in the clash after trying to shield a female villager from attack.
“The chief of the security guards ordered ten security guards to attack me. They beat me until I lost three teeth,” Lous Sovath said, adding that his feet were also injured in the charge.
“This is a serious abuse of human rights,” he said. “I will discuss filing a lawsuit with the other injured villagers.”
Lous Sovath’s wife, Yorm Bopha, who had championed the right to housing for residents forcibly evicted from Boeung Kak Lake, was in December last year ordered to serve three years in jail by a municipal court which convicted her for committing “intentional violence" in connection with the beating of a suspected thief.
Activists said that two security guards were also injured in the clash.
They said that the three villagers who had been detained before the violence broke out were later released.
Phnom Penh Municipal Police Chief Chhoun Sovann refused to comment on the confrontation when contacted by RFA.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for local rights group Licadho, said he was saddened to see the confrontation come to blows.
“Using violent means to crack down on villagers is unacceptable,” he said.
Protests over Boeung Kak Lake evictions have been ongoing since 2008, when the Chinese-Cambodian Shukaku Inc. began draining the lake to make way for a luxury residential development, drawing international attention to the country’s land development policies.
According to Licadho, the government has given away nearly 4 million hectares (15,000 square miles), or 22 percent of the country’s land area, in mining or economic land concessions, in some cases pitting residents against developers and sparking protests.
At least 400,000 people have been affected by land disputes over the past decade in just half of Cambodia’s provinces, mostly after land concessions were granted to private companies in their area, Licadho says.
Reported by Tep Soravy for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.