Protesters from Phnom Penh’s lakeside communities spent an hour facing off with police on Thursday on a road on the former Boeng Kak lake before turning around and taking a different route to the National Assembly, where they demanded an end to the infilling and development on the city’s remaining lakes.
Some 200 protesters from communities surrounding the Boeng Tompun, Boeng Trabek, and Boeng Kak lakes gathered on the sand dunes that now stand where the latter lake was before being filled in over the past decade for a CPP senator’s real estate project.
Experts say the city’s lakes, apart from offering livelihoods to local residents, act as buffers against flooding during the rainy season and as natural treatment areas for the city’s sewage.
Boeng Kak evictee and activist Tep Vanny said the protesters come from some 40 lakeside communities but were speaking on behalf of all city residents, who were together suffering the negative consequences of the lakes being filled in.
“We want the infilling of the city’s lakes to be stopped because it impacts residents’ livelihoods,” Ms. Vanny said. “We are protesting for everyone, because if we don’t have lakes, there will be no way to stop flooding.”
At about 9 a.m., the protesters began marching behind monks carrying a “FILL THE LAKES, FLOOD THE CITY” banner toward the National Assembly but were blocked by some 60 Daun Penh district police and security guards.
Ms. Vanny quickly noted the hypocrisy of the situation, which came just days after authorities allowed a group of students to parade through the city calling for deputy opposition leader Kem Sokha to address alleged marital infidelity.
“Youth leader Srey Chamroeun marched against having sex, and we march for the national benefit, so why is it that we can’t and they could?” she asked.
District governor Kouch Chamroeun said the protesters had not obtained permission to march, and declined to comment further.
After an hourlong standoff, the protestors hopped on tuk-tuks, took a different route and regrouped in front of the National Assembly building.
They called on Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong and former city governor Kep Chuktema to explain why they had allowed developers to buy and fill in the lakes.
“Please, National Assembly, ask Kep Chuktema and Pa Socheatvong to explain what they’ve done with the lakes, because the governors let companies build developments without thinking of the environment or the villagers,” Ms. Vanny said.
The group rallied for about 20 minutes outside the Assembly before dispersing.
Reached by telephone later in the day, Mr. Socheatvong said the protest was futile given that most of the city’s central lakes had already been filled with sand.
“The protesters are useless,” Mr. Socheatvong said. “Where are the other lakes the companies are going to fill in?”