Evictees and anti-eviction activists on Wednesday briefly scuffled with police and security guards after cutting off traffic in front of Phnom Penh City Hall to demand that businesswoman Suy Sophan compensate them for homes that were bulldozed early last year.
Human rights group Adhoc said at least three women were injured and issued a statement condemning the heavy-handed tactics by district security guards, especially some of whom were wielding batons fastened with metal knuckle-dusters.
“Adhoc reiterates its condemnation over the use of violence against demonstrators and reminds the Cambodian government and the authorities to respect their national and international legal commitments regarding fundamental freedoms of expression, association and assembly,” Adhoc said in the statement.
“In particular, Daun Penh district security cannot continue to commit violence against civilians and should be disciplined for such acts as they currently act as little more than hired thugs.”
The 50-odd protesters—mostly women—had marched from the Borei Keila neighborhood, the scene of a violent eviction in January 2012 during which bulldozers demolished the ramshackle homes of some 300 families. Once in front of City Hall, they blocked off Monivong Boulevard when Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong did not come out to meet with them. About 100 riot police and Daun Penh security guards, who are not police officers, soon massed nearby and marched on the protesters, some of whom were lying down in the road refusing to move.
During the tense standoff, as the police were pelted with water bottles, one man was chased down by the district security guards, pulled to the ground and kicked repeatedly even though he was not resisting or fighting back. The man was quickly lead into the City Hall compound and later taken to the municipal police headquarters.
The Borei Keila protesters accuse Ms. Sophan of breaking a promise to build 10 apartment blocks for the hundreds of families living in the area when the city granted her firm, Phanimex, a lease to develop the area several years ago.
Ms. Sophan, who only built eight of the 10 promised blocks, has since claimed that the current protesters never lived in the area. Those protesting Wednesday want the city to make her finish the buildings and compensate them for the homes that were destroyed.
After the road was cleared of protesters, 10 representatives of the group were eventually allowed into City Hall to meet with Mr. Socheatvong.
Afterward, protest organizer Pich Limkhuon said the governor promised to solve the dispute but did not say how and asked for time. He said the governor made the same promise in July, just before the national election.
“He said he will solve this but to give him time. I think it’s nothing new, the same as before,” Mr. Limkhuon said.
He said the protesters would give the governor another month before resuming their demonstrations.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said the governor urged the protesters to be patient.
“His Excellency [Mr. Socheatvong] said, ‘Please endure and wait for City Hall to solve this because we are working hard on this case,’” he said.
The man who was beaten and detained, Pov Savorn, was released at about 4 p.m.
Kim Vutha, chief of the Daun Penh district security guards, said his personnel never attack anyone and claimed that he did now know about the morning’s incident before hanging up.