Protesters Clash With Security Guards in Capital

Eighteen land rights protesters from Preah Vihear province were injured during a clash with district security guards in Phnom Penh on Monday after they attempted to deliver a petition at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house, a rights group said.

More than 100 villagers made their way from Wat Sammaki Raingsey in Meanchey district—where they have been staying for the past two months—to central Phnom Penh on Monday morning and delivered petitions to the Chinese, Russian and Australian embassies in an effort to call attention to their land dispute.

Land rights activist Ouk Pich Samnang attempts to drive his tuk-tuk through a security barricade near Prime Minister Hun Sen's house in Phnom Penh on Monday during a protest by evictees from Preah Vihear province. (John Vink)
Land rights activist Ouk Pich Samnang attempts to drive his tuk-tuk through a security barricade near Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh on Monday during a protest by evictees from Preah Vihear province. (John Vink)

The protesters are from a community of 253 families that have been forced to relocate from the area surrounding Preah Vihear temple.

When they attempted to march west along Sothearos Boulevard to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house to deliver their petition there, they came up against metal barricades manned by dozens of Daun Penh district security guards armed with clubs and stun guns. Military police with riot gear stood nearby.

As a tuk-tuk loaded with protesters approached the roadblock, other activists began flinging water from plastic water bottles and rattling the barricades. On the other side, the mostly helmeted guards began to swing their clubs.

The guards then burst through the barricades, and at least one protester was repeatedly beaten with a club as he fell to the ground.

Contacted by telephone Monday, district Governor Kouch Chamroeun, who stood behind the guards before and during the clash, attempted to distance himself from the violence.

“I did not order this violence,” Mr. Chamroeun said. “It happened because the villagers tried to push through the barricade and punch the security guards.”

Displaced villagers from Preah Vihear province protest near Wat Botum park in Phnom Penh on Monday before attempting to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen's house. (John Vink)
Displaced villagers from Preah Vihear province protest near Wat Botum park in Phnom Penh on Monday before attempting to deliver a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house. (John Vink)

Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor at rights group Licadho, said 18 protesters were injured in the clash and that five of them received treatment by the organization’s medical team for head wounds.

“The villagers were beaten by the security guards after they threw water at them,” said Mr. Sam Ath, who watched the altercation unfold.

Mr. Sam Ath added that Mr. Chamroeun should answer for the injuries, regardless of whether he ordered the attack himself.

“The violence is by Daun Penh district security guards. The governor has to be responsible,” he said.

Chan Ponleu, 18, one of the protesters from Preah Vihear, said he had simply been seeking answers to why his family had been forced off the land they farmed for decades when he was clubbed over the head and shocked with a stun gun.

“I was only yelling for Samdech [Hun Sen] to help, not so the security guards would beat me,” he said.

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