A company battling to evict three families in Cambodia’s capital Phnom Penh has been accused of intimidating the residents by killing their pets and placing poisonous cobras in their homes in the middle of the night.
The families claimed they were attacked by employees of Khun Sear Import Export Company, which has offices on property adjacent to their homes.
Hundreds of residents in the capital are fighting or threatened with forced evictions as the government paves the way for private development.
Meanwhile, some 100 residents from the city’s Boueng Kak, Borei Keila, and Thmor Korl communities involved in long-festering land disputes staged a fresh protest march on City Hall on Wednesday, clashing with police who blocked their way.
The night before the protest, the three families locked in the dispute with Khun Sear in Sangkat Boeung Kak 1—located in a different part of the city from the larger Boeung Kak community fighting a separate dispute with private developer Shukaku Inc.—found three poisonous cobra snakes had been placed near their homes.
Residents killed one of the snakes, capturing the other two as evidence. One resident was injured by a snakebite in the process.
“Someone wanted to kill us, and if we hadn’t known what kind of snakes those were, we would have been killed,” one of the residents, Mok Seavhoung, told RFA’s Khmer Service.
He urged the police to help protect the safety of the families living there, who have refused to move out of their homes, saying the compensation they’ve been offered is too low.
Land activists from Boeung Kak, Borei Keila, and Thmor Korl clash with police near City Hall in Phnom Penh, Oct. 30, 2013. Photo credit: RFA.
Local rights groups Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and the Housing Rights Task Force condemned the incident, saying it was the latest in a series of acts of harassment and intimidation perpetrated by Khun Sear employees against the families in recent days.
“CHRAC and HRTF are strongly condemning these continuous attempts of intimidation, violence, and death threats against the three families residing legally for decades on their plot of land in Boeung Kak 1,” the groups said in a statement Wednesday, urging authorities to help protect the families’ security.
“Bringing several dangerous snakes into the houses of urban poor families is more than an act of intimidation, it’s a death threat showing the intent to kill and should never be used … as a tool to try to win over a land dispute,” it said.
On Monday night, after company employees had threatened the families earlier in the day about killing their pets, two of their cats and one of their dogs were poisoned to death and left on the doorstep, according to the statement.
The same day, unidentified persons sprayed insecticide on one of the houses, and others harassed customers at one of the families’ businesses, it said.
Since May, the residents have faced the destruction of some of their property, demolition of their businesses, and threats on their physical safety, as well as had their water and electricity supplies shut off and five of their pets killed.
The company, which owns the land adjacent to the properties, has been seeking to extend their property to include the residents’ land. March on City Hall
In Wednesday’s protest in downtown Phnom Penh, activists from the three communities marched to demand authorities help speed up resolutions to their land disputes.
Several women demonstrators clashed with police, who kicked them and pushed them to the ground.
Villagers excluded from a resettlement deal in Borei Keila threatened to seize the buildings built on the property by construction company Phanimex if they are not relocated to new housing.
Borei Keila villager Chhun Ngan said the residents want to ask the city governor to have Phanimex honor its agreement to build 10 buildings for villagers.
“[We demand] that the city governor must resolve our problem within this week,” he said. “So far the governor has made empty promises.”
In a 2003 “land-sharing” agreement, Phanimex had agreed to build 10 buildings to resettle residents on a portion of the land while using the rest for commercial development, but stopped after building only eight of them.
City hall spokesman Long Dymong told the protesters the city will work step by step to resolve the issue, asking them to cooperate with municipal authorities and avoid any violent confrontations.
“The government and the city have a policy that we will allow the villagers to stay at the same location [before the eviction] but we need more time to work on it,” he said. Serious problem
Local right group Licadho's senior investigator Am Sam Ath urged City Hall to help resolve the issue for the Borei Keila villagers, saying they are facing a serious problem.
Residents involved in long-running land disputes in Boeung Kak and Thmor Korl joined them in the demonstration.
Hundreds of families in Thmor Korl village, located next to Phnom Penh International Airport, have staged protests since last year after they were told they would be forced to move to make way for a new road at the facility.
Boeung Kak residents have staged protests to demand compensation for land they were evicted from, saying the previous compensation was too low, and for Shukaku to include residents who have so far been excluded from a resettlement plan. Reported by RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.