300 Villagers Protest Bulldozing of Property

Roughly 300 villagers forcibly evic­ted from their homes Tues­day in Russei Keo district rallied at Phnom Penh City Hall on Wednesday to demand compensation for what they described as a police-led rampage of violence and destruction.

Representing 231 families whose homes were bulldozed in Phnom Penh Thmei commune’s Thmei and Pong Peay villages, the villagers spent four hours outside the municipal building lobbying for compensation from Gov­ernor Kep Chuk­tema.

Their belongings, money and identity papers destroyed with their homes, residents said they spent the first night after the eviction sleeping in the rubble of their former neighborhood. Villagers insisted Tuesday and Wednesday they had paid for their land, but had no land titles.

“The polices’ actions are more cruel than the Pol Pot regime,” said one villager at City Hall Wednesday. “They tortured us like cats and dogs.”

During the eviction, men sporting red armbands chased villagers from their homes, wrung the necks of chickens and looted property as police fired warning shots above their heads, villagers said Wednesday. Some also re­ported seeing police loading residents’ property into their vehicles.

Displaying a large bruise on her forehead, garment worker Leap Kanha, 26, said police struck her on the forehead with the butt of a gun when she tried to retrieve her savings of $200 from her home.

Deputy Municipal Police Chief Reach Sokhon denied that police stole property, and said he saw no such incidents.

Police maintained Wednes­day they were following a court order declaring the residents to be illegally occupying the land, which the court ruled is the private property of a Mrs Lim Khy.

Eight of nine residents arrested Tuesday for illegal land occupation remained in Russei Keo district police custody, while one man was released on Wednes­day, said Chan Soveth, an investigator with the human rights group Adhoc.

Reach Sokhon said the eight men would be held for 48 hours, beginning at 8 am Wednesday. On Tuesday, Reach Sokhon confirmed that the nine were taken into custody that morning.

The eight will be charged with illegal land occupation, municipal court Pro­secutor Siem Sok An said Wednesday.

Siem Sok An said he met Wednesday with Deputy Mu­nic­i­pal Governor Par Soch­eat­vong, who asked that he lobby Lim Khy to pay compensation to the evic­ted residents.

No contact in­formation was available for Lim Khy Wednes­day.

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