Three months after their protests gained them government assurances of care, prison guards held a demonstration again Sunday, burning rubber tires and hanging placards at the near-demolished T3 Prison site in central Phnom Penh.
They claim the government has failed to provide what it promised: $300 compensation for being forced out of housing at the old prison site, and living quarters at the new prison, where they now work.
Thirty guards and their families rallied Sunday and they said T3 Prison Director Kuy Bunsron agreed to the two demands in January following demonstrations by the 80-plus staff as the 100-year-old prison closed.
Contacted Sunday by telephone, Kuy Bunsron said he had no comment on the new protest or on the issue of promised compensation.
But a senior Interior Ministry official, Director General of Administration Prach Chan, said the government does not have the money to meet the guards’ compensation demands. The issue of staff accommodation near the new prison site will be discussed, but such a project likely will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars which the ministry does not have. “It’s a shortage of money,” Prach Chan said Sunday.
Sokimex Import-Export Co, the powerful local conglomerate that built the new prison in exchange for the real estate that had housed the old prison, is not responsible for the guards, the company’s vice president said Sunday.
“The government promised to give us the [T3] land and is responsible for [the protests],” said Sorn Sokna, noting it was government officials who promised compensation. “This is not my problem….They [the prison guards] work for the government….I didn’t promise to provide them with anything. The government did.”
After moving in January to the new prison site 20 km away in Prey Sa commune, prison guards and their 40 families were initially living in a building designed for use as a workshop for prisoners, 52-year-old prison guard Khen Yin said Sunday at the protest.
However, with no water, toilets or proper electricity supply, the families did not stay, said Khen Yin. He explained the workshop was inside the prison and the guards’ families were essentially living with inmates.
“I was so worried about my kids,” Khin Yin said. “When they walk out, the prisoners might take them hostage and then force police to release them….We are human beings, not animals. And we are not prisoners.”
Some 40 prison guard families were still living Sunday in part of the T3 Prison complex not yet demolished and will stay there until their demands are met, a prison guard who did not wish to be named said Sunday. He claimed Sokimex representatives ordered the families to move out May 1.
But guards who set ablaze 18 car tires were adamant Sunday that they will not leave old T3 Prison site until the government provides accommodation for their families, who they maintain are homeless since the prison’s move to Prey Sa.
“Even if they knock down this building we will still stay here…. We will build a squatter camp in T3, ” said the guard.
Sokimex, best known as an oil company, has not decided how to develop the prime real estate on Street 154, said Sorn Sokna.