Opposition party members and a human rights group yesterday condemned the demolition of eight homes and businesses at Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake on Friday, calling the act a violation of the law.
Two excavators belonging to Shukaku Inc tore down homes as riot police pushed back desperate residents trying to shield their homes from destruction. The heavy-handed tactics employed by police also resulted in a member of the SRP youth movement being beaten unconscious with batons, an SRP lawmaker said.
Seven Phnom Penh capital councilors from the SRP issued a statement on Saturday condemning Shukaku Inc, the company owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin that is building a real estate venture in the Boeng Kak lake area and has long been embroiled in land disputes with the thousands of residents who were denied the right to apply for official land titles for their homes.
“This activity strongly violated human rights and law,” the statement said. “Only the court has the right to decide whether to demolish or not…. The armed forces should protect the people, not crack down on people to protect companies.”
Prime Minister Hun Sen signed a sub-decree in August setting aside a 12.44-hectare plot of land in the project where the 800 or so families not yet evicted from the site could keep their homes. But at least 46 families have been cut out of the deal because authorities said their homes were located outside the plot. Mr Hun Sen’s decision to grant the land came after the World Bank had frozen all new lending to Cambodia in protest of how evictions had been managed at the lake.
Soung Sophoan, the member of the SRP youth movement who was beaten by police on Friday and is a former Boeng Kak resident, was being treated for his injuries-including a broken finger and a head injury that had required 5 stitches-at a private clinic yesterday.
SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said the SRP would prepare to file a complaint with the court against the police and Shukaku on behalf of Mr Sophoan. He also said that the SRP would address a letter to the World Bank informing it of Friday’s police brutality in the hope that the Bank would continue to pressure the government.
“We believe the incident was not an accident,” he said, referring to Mr Sophoan’s beating. “It was planned with the intention to kill him. His head was beaten with a rifle. He could have dropped dead.”
In a statement on Friday, the Housing Rights Task Force accused the municipality of “willful misinterpretation of the government plan to resettle” the Boeng Kak lake residents.
“The police used violence to their own people, and they violated the Cambodian law…because there were no eviction notices,” Sia Phearum, secretary-general of the Housing Rights Task Force said.
“We found that they [the police and Shukaku] looked down on the Prime Minister’s sub-decree… They don’t care about the sub-decree, they think they have more power than the Prime Minister,” Mr Phearum said.
At the sites where their homes were smashed to the ground, residents yesterday had set up makeshift tents fashioned from sheets of tarpaulin. They said that there was nowhere else for them to go.
“I’ve pitched a tent for shelter so that I can stay here, I have no place else to stay,” said Chhuo Licheng, 32, whose home was among the eight destroyed. “Everything was destroyed, even my cooker, pots and clothes are gone.”
Heng Mom, whose home was also demolished and who was lying in her tent attached to an IV drip, said she would not stop in her plight for justice.
“I think that even the Pol Pot regime was not brutal like this,” she said. “This action was a terrible injustice. I will keep demanding justice, I’m not wrong, I did not rob anyone of their land.”
(Additional reporting by Kate Bartlett)