Police in Banteay Meanchey province on Thursday refused to let a group of several dozen marchers protesting against their evictions walk around Poipet City with fake coffins, saying that the props were an eyesore.
The protesters say about 600 families were evicted from their homes along long-abandoned railway tracks in 2011 so that the government could rehabilitate the line, but they are not satisfied with the compensation they received. The demonstrators say a second group of about 350 families are now being threatened with eviction without compensation.
Chheng Hak, who organized the protest, said the event was held because he and three others were called for questioning by police on Thursday, but feared that they would be arrested if they went.
Instead, “we protested outside City Hall because we wanted the police chief to come outside and question the people in public, but we did not see him,” he said.
The marchers gathered outside Poipet City Hall at 8 a.m., carrying replica coffins fashioned from cloth and scrawled with a message for city and provincial authorities: “These are the bodies of corrupt government officials who violated innocent people and are unjust to the people.”
From there, the protesters marched around the city for about 30 minutes before police refused to let them continue with the coffins, said Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, adding that the protesters then decided to abandon the march.
Contacted afterward, Poipet police chief Um Sophal said that police had asked the protesters to stop marching with the coffins because the props were unattractive.
“We did not confiscate the coffins from those protesters. We just asked them not to march with the coffins because it is bad for people traveling in the city to see,” he said.
Mr. Sophal also said that the protesters called in for questioning would not have been arrested.
“I issued the letter to invite the four for questioning today because they had protested many times and we did not know what they wanted,” he said.