Tons of soil have been dumped in a section of the park opposite the National Assembly where protestors from the provinces have camped for years during protests against land grabbing.
Deputy Municipal Governor Pa Socheatvong said Monday that the waist- and shoulder-high mounds of dirt were dumped in order to beautify the city, and that it was not intended to deter rural land protestors from bring their grievances to the city.
The preparations are intended for an ornamental garden that City Hall is planning, Pa Socheatvong said.
“We cannot prevent people [from demonstrating] at the park,” he said. “We must discourage them through good deeds and non-violent means.”
The park has been home to many peaceful demonstrators over the past several years, with many villagers setting up impromptu tent communities under the tree cover in front of Wat Botum, where the piles of soil have been dumped.
Nhem Saran, director of the municipal public works and transport department, said that protestors will not be allowed to camp at the site after the garden’s scheduled completion in July.
“I believe the intention is to make the place unlivable, unstayable, for protestors, which is unacceptable,” SRP lawmaker Son Chhay said.
“There is no room for people to protest anymore,” he said.
Free Trade Union President Chea Mony said that the park should be officially recognized as one of the Singaporean-style “freedom parks” that the government plans to establish for government-sanctioned protests.
The park would be a particularly poignant location because in March 1997, it was the scene of the grenade attack on a peaceful protest that killed more than a dozen people, he said.
Information Minister and government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said that villagers should not travel to Phnom Penh to present their grievances to the National Assembly because they can complain to officials in the provinces.
“I do not think there are any cases that have been solved at the park,” he added.