Poipet Violence Raises Concerns About Future Evictions

Monday’s news that police and military po­lice had gunned down five Poipet villagers re­sis­ting their eviction from contested land reached Phnom Penh’s Koh Pich by radio and newspaper the same day.

“When I heard about the killing…I was afraid about what will happen here in the fu­ture,” said Lo Sony, a Koh Pich farmer the government hopes to evict from the island—a piece of prime real estate opposite the Naga­Corp Ca­sino that the municipality has laid claim to.

Though fearful, Lo Sony said he was determined and prepared to fight to remain on the patch of land he calls home.

Unless the government offers about 10 times more than its current offer of $2.50 per square meter for Koh Pich land, “There will be no compromise,” Lo Sony said.

“We will struggle to the end. They can kill us if they want to,” he said.

According to a UN Habitat report obtained earlier this month, new plans to develop Phnom Penh will uproot thousands of families, many of whom will be evicted from their homes over the next two years.

The killing of the five people in Poipet is pos­ing questions about how the government will conduct future unpopular evictions, and how villagers being forced to move will react.

Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith said on Wednesday that the Poipet killings were not linked in anyway to the central government in Phnom Penh.

Asked about the reported presence of more than 200 heavily armed police and military po­lice who moved in on the small village of Kbal Spean where the five villagers died, Khieu Kanharith noted that more than 100 families were due to be evicted. He cautioned against jumping to conclusions about what happened in Kbal Spean, but added that an interministerial committee was investigating the case.

Residents in the northwest also expressed sym­pathy following Monday’s shooting.

“People have a bad feeling towards the au­thorities,” following the Poipet killings, said Mit Laing, a 68-year-old former Khmer Rouge soldier in Battambang province’s Samlot district.

Mit Laing likened the situation to 1967, when a communist-inspired uprising in Samlot over rice requisitions was brutally repressed. If government authorities continue to kill peo­ple during evictions, similar unrest will oc­cur, he predicted. “Now it is not big, but if it goes on it will be serious.”

Lath Nhoung, a former Khmer Rouge soldier in Pailin, said similar land disputes are going on there, with authorities trying to force civilians off their land.

“We are determined to fight if they force us off [the land] because the removal is not reasonable or just,” he said. “Now we are farming,” he said. “Why do they need to chase us?”

Reaction to the Poipet killings by Cambodia’s in­ternational aid community remained low key on Wednesday.

The Canadian Embassy voiced regret for the deaths and hoped that the government’s investigation will provide answers about what happened. The US Embassy said it did not yet have enough information to comment.

The Japanese, French and British embassies all de­clined comment Wednesday, as did the World Bank and Australian Embassy on Tues­day.

The hundreds of millions of dollars in assistance given by donor countries to Cambodia makes them morally obliged to speak out on human rights abuses, opposition lawmaker Son Chhay said on Wednesday.

Donors “support the Khmer Rouge trial. Why do they turn away from these killings?” Son Chhay asked, calling the donors’ silence “ir­responsible.”

Seng Vannak, a fruit juice seller in Phnom Penh, said he was saddened by the killings. “It is so cruel to shoot innocent people,” he said.

The government must now bring those responsible for the killings to justice, Phorn Thy, a motorbike taxi driver in Phnom Penh said. “They shot people like birds,” he said. “The government has to be responsible and punish the killers seriously.”



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