Four women were injured and another four detained on Monday following a clash with Cambodian authorities over a controversial development project in the nation’s capital, according to villagers.
The women had gathered in front of city hall with other villagers from central Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak Lake community to protest the loss of their land to a Chinese-Cambodian company.
The company has been filling in the lake with sand in preparation for the construction of a luxury residential site.
The villagers, many of whom had already lost their homes to a forced demolition, said they held the demonstration to ask for help from local officials after a group of land title officers visited Boeung Kak Lake to take measurements over the weekend.
“After being ordered to disperse, we scuffled with authorities who beat four women unconscious and detained another four,” said one villager, who asked to remain anonymous.
“Members of (the Cambodian rights group) Licadho assisted us in bringing the four injured women to a nearby hospital for treatment.”
The whereabouts of the four detained women were unknown and authorities could not be reached for comment.
Before the villagers' protest, Kong Chantha, a representative of the Boeung Kak Lake community, demanded that all residents whose homes had been demolished by developer Shukaku Inc. and local authorities be entitled to land within an area earmarked by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August.
According to Hun Sen’s decree, 12.44 hectares (31 acres) were to be set aside for 794 families who were facing eviction.
But local authorities say scores of families lack property titles recognized by the government and have excluded them from the land. Villagers contend that implementation of the decree has lacked transparency.
“I represent the people. I have no other means to exhaust in order to keep my house for my children,” Kong Chantha told RFA.
Sam Ath of Licadho said Cambodian authorities need to move faster in assigning the designated land to families facing eviction.
“We haven’t seen any discussions or dialogue taking place between the people and the authorities on the issue yet,” he said.
“What will happen if the government finishes measuring out the 12.44 hectares of land agreed to for the people, but some residents are left out?”
Nearly 20,000 people have either been evicted from their homes or are at risk of losing them since Shukaku Inc., which is owned by a politician from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, was granted a 99-year lease in the area in 2007.
Boeung Kak suicide
Meanwhile, the husband of a woman from the Boeung Kak Lake community said her body was found Saturday after she committed suicide out of desperation over being forcibly evicted.
Chea Dara, a 30-year-old mother of two, threw herself off of a bridge last week after she was left with no other option to protect her home from local authorities and the developer, according to her huband Doeung Phou.
Doeung Phou said his wife had struggled since 1980 to save money to purchase their eight square meter (86 square foot) home, but had been forced off of the premises as authorities prepared to demolish structures in the area.
“She just told me that she was hopeless and very worried about having no property—no land ownership and no home—for her children to stay in the future. She said she was afraid that the children would end up living on the street,” he told RFA.
A funeral was held for Chea Dara at a nearby pagoda on Saturday evening.
Cambodia’s land issue dates from the 1975-79 Khmer Rouge regime, which banned private property and forced large-scale evacuations and relocations throughout the country.
This was followed by mass confusion over land rights and the formation of squatter communities when the refugees returned in the 1990s after a decade of civil war.
Housing Cambodia’s large, young, and overwhelmingly poor population has posed a major problem ever since.
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.
Reported by RFA’s Khmer service. Translated by Sum Sok Ry and Yanny Hin. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.