Residents living near Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak lake briefly scuffled with police yesterday after burning tires to protest weeks of sand pumping that has inundated a lakeside village with streams of mud.
Interior Ministry intervention unit police officers blocked a group of the roughly 200 protesters as they attempted to march from village one in Daun Penh district’s Srah Chak commune to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house near Independence Monument.
Some protesters claimed they were beaten.
“When we walked, they blocked the street with their motorbikes,” said Leng Chanthy, one of the protesters. “They threatened to hit us if we insisted on going ahead, and then [one] kicked me once in my stomach.
“Their action was very brutal,” she added. “They are police. They should not fight our people, because we have no weapons.”
“Police pushed me in the chest, and I fell down. They violated the women’s rights,” said Ly Mom, a representative of residents.
Some 4,000 lakeside residents were slated for eviction when the city granted private developer Shukaku Inc a 99-year lease to the area in 2007. Though the firm has been filling the lake with sand for more than a year, it was only a few weeks ago that the company’s pumps started spewing mud directly into village one.
Deputy district governor Sok Penhvuth, who was on hand for the standoff, told the crowd that the police had not attacked them.
“No one fought you. They just prevented you,” he said. “We came here to keep the public order because you burned the tires and demonstrate on the street, which affects the public order.”
District governor Sok Sambath, who showed up later, promised the protesters he would relay their concerns to the city governor.
“The [city] governor ordered me to come here to check and receive the villagers’ request,” he said.
Before the protesters dispersed around noon, Mr Sambath also said he would have Shukaku postpone its pumping. But according to Ms Mom, the pumping resumed in the late afternoon after a brief pause.