Excavators flattened eight houses and shops at the north end of Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake on Friday as baton-wielding riot police pushed back distraught residents and badly beat one protestor who was among hundreds of locals who rallied against the latest round of demolitions.
The Housing Rights Task Force issued a statement condemning the municipality for not implementing a sub-decree signed by Prime Minister Hun Sen that ordered that land be set aside at Boeng Kak lake for the residents who have fought for years against eviction by Shukaku Inc, the company owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin.
Riot police with shields and batons stood guard at Village 22 in the early afternoon as two excavators belonging to the real estate firm swung their mechanical arms wildly at the protesting residents who were trying to shield their homes and business from destruction.
After the protesters fled from the advancing excavators, the machines moved forward with the riot police and flattened three houses on the edge of the nearly completely filled in lake.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen’s sub-decree is fake,” said 41-year-old Heng Mom, an owner of one of the destroyed houses. “No one is going to believe in Prime Minister Hun Sen anymore because he did not check and follow on what he ordered.”
Ms Mom, who had lived at the lake since 1993, was referring to an Aug 11 sub-decree signed by Mr Hun Sen ordering that 12.44 hectares of land at the lake be set aside for the nearly 800 families who have fought against their eviction by the company.
Ms Mom said that she had been in negotiations on Thursday with Shukaku to sell her home for $3,000 per square meter.
“I did not ignore the government’s development. I just need it [the sale price] to be fair for me,” she said.
Sok Hong, who identified himself as a facilitator in negotiations between Shukaku and the Boeng Kak residents, said Ms Mom’s home was destroyed because she was asking for too much money for her land.
“We did not have the money to pay what they are demanding. The price is over that of the market,” he said, adding that he had negotiated with Ms Mom for three days before Shukaku made the decision to tear down her home.
After the excavators razed the first three homes on the edge of the lake, the machines suddenly turned and began knocking down several other houses and shops, causing a panic among residents who frantically tried to save their belongings.
Several villagers began throwing rocks at the excavators. Five riot police then converged on Soung Sophoan – whom one witnesses said was not involved in the stone throwing – and beat him savagely with batons. Unconscious and bloody, Mr Sophoan, a former resident of Village 2, was taken to Calmette Hospital.
“The victim who was attacked is now still in serious condition,” said Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for rights group Adhoc.
“The company and authorities are guilty of illegal violence,” he said. “The government must investigate this case.”
Srah Chak commune deputy police chief Thai Virak said that the Daun Penh district police and the riot police should not have acted so violently toward the protestors.
“I saw it with my own eyes. Villagers were beaten and suffered because of district police,” he said. “Authorities work and serve the company, not the villagers,” the police chief said.
Sok Penhvuth, deputy Daun Penh district governor, declined to speak to reporters and National Police spokesman Kirth Chantharith declined to comment.
The Housing Rights Task Force in their statement accused the municipality of “willful misinterpretation of the government plan to resettle” the Boeng Kak lake residents.
Following Mr Hun Sen’s announcement that 12.44 hectares of land would be set aside for the remaining Boeng Kak residents, local authorities informed 96 families in the area that they were being excluded from the deal and would not be eligible to obtain land titles.
Human Rights Task Force “believes that the municipality’s actions toward the 96 families is both flawed and unjust,” the statement said. “HRTF believes that the municipality has intentionally misinterpreted the government order in order to aid Lao Meng Kim and Shukaku,” it added.
Council of Minister’s spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on whether Mr Hun Sen order had been misinterpreted to the disadvantage of the residents.
“Only the mayor of Phnom Penh can implement the government decision,” Mr Siphan said, adding that the Boeng Kak residents could bring their grievances to the court.
“Only the court can solve the problem if dispute is going on,” he said.
Municipal Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment.