One protester takes pills, another cuts wrist in apparent suicide bids
Police in Phnom Penh arrested four women yesterday during a series of violent clashes between about 40 Boeng Kak lake residents and authorities over a disputed plot of land and the apparent suicide of a fellow resident last week.
About 30 residents gathered at Boeng Kak lake’s Village 22 at about 9 am demanding that they be included in a 12.44-hectare plot of land that was promised to lake residents by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August, but that excludes 94 families.
An hour later, the residents moved to City Hall, and the protest took a drastic turn when two women appeared to carry out a suicide attempt, one by taking pills and another by taking a blade to her wrist.
Kong Chantha, who has been one of the most outspoken women involved in the villagers’ fight against real estate firm Shukaku Inc, which is owned by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin, took between three and five unidentifiable pills and seemed to fall unconscious. She awoke 15 minutes later after fellow protesters made efforts to revive her.
Another protester, Kheat Chanreaksmey, cut her left wrist with a razor before other villagers intervened and stopped her from doing further damage to herself.
Residents said that the acts were connected to the death of fellow resident Chea Dara, who jumped to her death from the Japanese Friendship Bridge last week.
“We struggle for our land,” said lake resident Bouv Saophea. “[Ms Chanreaksmey] cut her wrist to show the authorities that [Chea Dara] killed herself for this land. We are showing the authorities our suffering and pain.”
“We protest because there is no solution for us,” said Ms Chantha, after she had swallowed the pills. “We will sacrifice ourselves for this 12.44 hectares. I will continue to protest in order to protect our rights and our land.”
At 10:40 am, intervention police arrested lake residents Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy and Heng Mom after they ran into the middle of Monivong Boulevard in an attempt to block traffic. It was unclear whether the women arrested yesterday had been released.
By 2 pm, the number of protesting residents had swelled to about 40. The women strode out across Monivong Boulevard and linked arms, blocking traffic for about 25 minutes.
Some removed their trousers and shirts, and standing semi-naked, they used their clothes to lash out at scores of special intervention police, armed with riot shields and batons, who had begun to advance and disperse the demonstration.
An hour later, police and the remaining residents, whose numbers had whittled down to about 20, were locked in an intense standoff in the middle of Monivong Boulevard, leaving traffic gridlocked in each direction.
Ms Chantha, who had linked arms with at least two other protesters, began screaming at the intervention police as they closed in. Two plainclothes police tackled her to the ground. In the ensuing melee, protesters, reporters and rights workers were jostled, knocked and pushed around as the wall of riot shields closed in.
Plastic bottles were thrown back and forth. During the standoff, at least one municipal police officer was seen beating a protester back with his baton.
Ms Chantha was then hurried into a marked police car that sped away as the door slammed shut behind her.
After the clash, about 50 villagers gathered in front of the French Embassy, petitioning the ambassador to secure the release of the four women who had been arrested.
Am Sam Ath, monitoring technical supervisor with rights group Licadho, said the crackdown had been far too violent.
“If [the authorities] send police like this, they will use armed force and violence on them, which is a serious human rights abuse,” he said. “But these villagers will continue to protest.”
Keat Chhe, deputy director of administration at the Municipality, said he had planned to dispatch officials yesterday to demarcate the 12.44 hectares of Boeng Kak lake, but the protest had impeded their efforts to do so.
“If they still want to protest, we cannot mark the land border,” he said.
(Additional reporting by Cheng Sokhorng)