Sand Swallows Lake Homes; Worker Wields Rifle, Villagers Say

After two days of sand-pumping into Daun Penh district’s Village 1 in Phnom Penh, dozens of Srah Chak commune homes around Boeng Kak lake were inundated to their roofs yesterday as Shukaku Inc workers cleared houses and palm trees with an excavator.

When villagers attempted to stop the workers, an excavator operator brandished an AK-47 and threatened to open fire, villagers said.

Shukaku “pumped straight into our houses for about two days, but [Thursday] night it was bad,” said Ty Pisey, a 28-year-old from Srah Chak commune’s Village 1. “Right now, the sand is almost flooding the roof. We cannot take our belongings. They are stuck in the house.”

A total of 38 homes were flooded to their roofs, while another 100 were affected, a rights worker said yesterday.

Ms Pisey said workers moved a large sand-pumping pipe close to the villagers’ houses early Friday, which caused severe flooding in the area. She said villagers were not given warning of the close-proximity pumping.

“They’ve violated us,” she said. “Our people cannot do anything. We can only stand and look as they destruct our properties.”

As villagers milled about on the hardened sand that swallowed their homes, an excavator razed roofs and toppled trees yesterday. Some villagers attempted to intervene, only to have an assault rifle aimed at them, they said.

“He threatened to shoot us when I tried to stop him from knocking down the trees and my house’s roof,” said You Ro, a 24-year-old.

Mr Ro said he and other villagers fled the scene when threatened by the driver, who was urged to put the gun down by co-workers.

“This action was very bad,” he said. “This is Techo [Prime Minister Hun Sen’s] regime, not Pol Pot’s.”

Thy Reth, a 51-year-old villager, shouted loudly for help from Mr Hun Sen and his wife Bun Rany.

“The company is very brutal; it is more brutal than Pol Pot,” she said. “Please, Louk Chumteav Bun Rany, help me.”

Sok Penhvuth, Daun Penh district deputy governor, told the affected villagers to talk to city officials and company representatives for compensation, adding that most development projects lead to some ill effects.

“It is normal,” he said, “development always has an impact.”

Mr Penhvuth did, however, ask district governor Sok Sambath and municipal governor Kep Chuktema to temporarily stop the sand pumping and said the officials granted a three-day reprieve.

By mid-afternoon yesterday the sand pump had come to a halt.

Ouch Leng, land program official for rights group Adhoc, said he witnessed the excavator operator brandish the AK-47.

“He used the gun to threaten to kill people,” Mr Leng said. “This activity shows that our country seems not to have law, which allows the company’s worker to use the weapon to threaten people.”

Mr Leng accused the government of serving the company, not the people.

Interior Ministry spokesman Lieutenant-General Khieu Sopheak encouraged the villagers to file a complaint if they saw someone point a weapon and threaten them.

“Pointing the gun at people is not provided by the law,” he said.

Though he said if the man had the necessary permits he would be allowed to carry the gun.


(Additional reporting by Drew Foster)


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