A military police official confirmed Thursday that his unit’s new headquarters were being built in the heart of Phnom Penh’s restive Boeng Kak neighborhood, meters away from the homes of some of the country’s most high-profile anti-eviction activists.
About a half-dozen armed military police officers were standing guard on Wednesday morning over a plot of land being cleared in the neighborhood while construction workers prepared wood planks across the narrow road.
Most of the officers at the scene declined to speak with reporters, though one of them claimed that the land was being prepared for new homes for local families.
On Thursday, however, Daun Penh district military police chief Thorng Piseth said that the land was being prepared for a new headquarters for his officers, to replace their current building located catty-corner from the Buddhist Institute.
“City Hall is giving us that location,” he said. “Our old location is temporary, inside a park, so City Hall is giving us land…that is available for construction, so they are building it [the new headquarters] for us in Boeng Kak.”
Mr. Piseth said he did not know when they would be ready to move in but said that the new site would make their work easier.
“When we start working there, it will make it easy to have meetings and control our forces,” he said.
Mr. Piseth referred further questions to the municipal government. City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said he knew nothing about the move.
As it happens, the new headquarters will be just meters away from the home of Tep Vanny and some of her fellow anti-eviction activists, who together have become a major thorn in the side of the government, from the district on up.
Their ceaseless protesting against forced evictions in Boeng Kak and across the country has often been met with brutal force by state security officials, attracting both international media attention and rebukes of the government’s behavior from human rights groups here and abroad. Some of them have been repeatedly detained during peaceful protests and convicted on charges widely seen as politically motivated.
Ms. Vanny said the city’s decision to move the military police base among their homes was no coincidence.
“It’s meant to threaten our community and control our activities,” she said. “They are hindering us, they always block us from protesting or marching and crack down on us.”
It would not work, Ms. Vanny added.
“We will keep protesting to prevent them from building their office,” she said.
Am Sam Ath of rights group Licadho agreed that the location of the new base could be meant to intimidate the activists.
“It can threaten the community, since they often protest for justice for their land,” he said.
The community’s protest movement began with its opposition to the forced eviction of some 3,000 families from Boeng Kak in recent years to make way for a high-end real estate project being backed by Senator Lao Meng Khin. About 12 hectares were excised from the original 133-hectares project area in 2011 so that the remaining few-hundred families could keep their homes.
As the 12 hectares have yet to be clearly demarcated in full, it remained unclear as of Thursday whether the land seen being cleared for the new military police base lies inside or just outside of it.