Opposition leader Sam Rainsy on Monday vowed to return Phnom Penh’s beleaguered Boeng Kak neighborhood to its residents and to have those who filled the lake with sand thrown in jail, should the opposition CNRP ultimately prevail in contesting the unofficial results of last month’s election.
The Boeng Kak neighborhood witnessed some 3,000 families forcibly evicted after the city leased the land to CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin in 2007. The area has since become the flashpoint of years of anti-eviction protests around the city, and also led the World Bank to suspend loans to the government over the unfair treatment of the area’s residents.
Mr. Rainsy, who made land rights a central theme of his election campaign and is contesting the ruling CPP’s claim of having won the July 28 poll, made a brief tour of the Boeng Kak area on Monday trailed by more than 200 excited residents waving CNRP signs.
“The people who filled in the lake are criminals and they will be put in jail because we need to keep this lake to relieve flooding in the city and this lake is also for tourism,” Mr. Rainsy told a crowd outside the home of the neighborhood’s leading activist, Tep Vanny.
Mr. Rainsy alleged that both Mr. Meng Khin, whose real estate firm filled in the lake, and former city governor Kep Chuktema, who oversaw the evictions when he was in charge of Phnom Penh, should be held legally responsible for their actions.
“Kep Chuktema conspired with Lao Meng Khin, the owner of Shukaku Inc., who filled in the lake and took this land for their own interests, so they must be responsible for the filling,” Mr. Rainsy said.
Mr. Rainsy also demanded the release of Boeng Kak anti-eviction activist Yorm Bopha, who is serving a three-year jail sentence for an incitement conviction her supporters believe was politically motivated to stop her protesting.
“We do not believe the current development is right, because we have seen that the development confiscates people’s land and destroys their homes. Real development creates progress for all people throughout the country,” Mr. Rainsy said to cheers and applause.
“We will not act like the previous government, which will step down soon because the people voted to drop the old prime minister,” he said.
Mr. Chuktema, who gave up the governor’s office earlier this year to mount a successful bid for Parliament on the CPP ticket in Phnom Penh, denied any criminal wrongdoing when contacted for comment Monday.
“He is not prime minister yet, but he threatens to arrest people and put them in jail. So does he deserve to be a political leader? And can the people believe him?” Mr. Chuktema said.
“I did nothing wrong,” he said.
Mr. Chuktema conceded that no development drive happens without mistakes, but then denied any responsibility for what had occurred at Boeng Kak because he was merely following unspecified orders from the national government.
“I just want to stay in peace because I have retired,” he added.
Mr. Meng Khin and representatives for his firm could not be reached for comment.
Throughout their protests, the Boeng Kak activists have often professed their devotion to the CPP, even bringing along framed pictures of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany and pleading for their help.
But Ms. Vanny, who has been at the center of those protests, said many of them have lost faith in the ruling party.
“We have lost belief in the CPP since they have been evicting people because of Kep Chuktema and Lao Meng Khin, and they always use the court system against the protesters,” Ms. Vanny said after Mr. Rainsy’s visit.
“I hope the new prime minister for the fifth mandate will be His Excellency Sam Rainsy, and I hope he will not disappoint the people and that Cambodia will become a real democratic country.”
Mr. Rainsy has not swayed everyone, however.
Heng Mom, a former ally of Ms. Vanny’s, said she stayed away from opposition leader’s visit to the area because she and 15 other families cut a deal with city officials just ahead of the election in which they would all receive titles to their threatened homes in return for their votes for the ruling CPP.
“The municipality promised to give land titles only to the 16 families because they promised to vote for the CPP,” she said.
Ms. Mom said she received a phone call from municipality administration chief Ket Chhe soon after the election promising the families that the titles would be delivered as soon as the NEC announced the official results, which are expected some time in September.
Mr. Chhe could not be reached for comment regarding the votes for land titles deal.
Municipality spokesman Long Dimanche declined to comment.
Housing rights groups say the government violated its own land laws in Boeng Kak by failing to give the thousands of families who once lived there the chance to apply for land titles.
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