Evictees and anti-eviction activists clashed with police briefly after blocking off a thoroughfare in front of Phnom Penh City Hall Thursday to demand that the private firm that had them violently evicted last year make good on a promise to build them new homes.
The 40-odd women, whose ramshackle homes in Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood were razed during a violent clash with police in January 2012, want the politically well-connected firm Phanimex to build the last two of the 10 apartment buildings it promised when it bought their land.
The women marched from the Borei Keila site to City Hall Thursday morning to ask the municipal government to pressure the firm into fulfilling its obligations.
Joined by a few anti-eviction activists from nearby Boeng Kak, they formed a human chain across the width of Monivong Boulevard for about 20 minutes before more than 150 police moved in and swiftly pushed them off the road with their shields and batons, knocking a few of the women over.
“The police twisted my arm and hit me on the wrist with a baton,” said one of the protesters, Nhim Sophea, who has been living in a rickety shelter of plywood planks and tarpaulin next to piles of fetid trash beside the Borei Keila eviction site since her old home was demolished by Phanimex.
“I suffer because the police used violence on empty handed protesters, and I’m angry about this because we are both Khmer,” she said.
Daun Penh district deputy police chief Lim Hong said his officers used only as much force as they had to.
“We did not beat them, but we just pushed them to the sidewalk and they were injured when they fell down,” he said. “I asked them to go to the sidewalk but they did not listen to me, so I had to use force to clear the way for the traffic.”
Before finally departing shortly before noon, the women met briefly with municipal deputy governor Khuong Sreng, who came out and took their petition asking that Phanimex be made to finish the last two buildings and compensate the evicted families for the homes and property that were destroyed last year.
Contacted later, Mr. Sreng said he had given the petition to City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche, who declined to comment.
Phanimex owner Suy Sophan has claimed that her firm does not owe the protesters any apartments because they were never legitimate residents on the property to begin with.
The Phnom Penh Municipal Court has also thrown out a case against her firm filed by the evictees. The site where the additional apartments would have been built is now home to a warehouse that sells luxury sports utility vehicles. The site where the demolished homes stood is an empty, overgrown field.
Evictee Pich Limkhuon, one of the organizers of Thursday’s protest, said they would give the city a week to reply to their latest request for help. If they did not hear back by then, he said, they would occupy the site where the two apartment blocks would have been built.
“We will come to stay on that land if City Hall has no solution for us in one week because the land legally belongs to the evicted people,” he said.