About 1,000 activists are planning to gather at the former Dey Krahorm neighborhood in central Phnom Penh this morning before marching to the Ministry of Land Management in protest of land and housing evictions, according to those involved, who dismissed City Hall’s ban of the event.
In a belated commemoration of World Habitat Day, which overlapped with the Pchum Ben holiday, victims of land abuses across the country intend to gather at the site where residents were violently ousted in 2009, said Bov Sorphea, a Boeng Kak activist and one of the event’s organizers.
Residents flee a bulldozer as it moves rubble from homes destroyed during the forced eviction of Dey Krahorm residents in Phnom Penh in January 2009. (Nicolas Axelrod)“About 1,000 land dispute victims will gather at Dey Krahorm tomorrow,” she said.
Protesters will carry handmade model homes and banners starting at about 7:30 a.m., she said, and will deliver an appeal letter requesting government intervention to defend citizens’ rights to land to the ministry.
“What we are doing abides by the law,” Ms. Sorphea said. “Authorities have the duty to protect our peaceful activities.”
City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey, however, did not agree, citing a potential disturbance to public order and traffic flow. He said the city told protesters to take the protest to Freedom Park or face legal consequences.
“They requested permission for 1,000 people to join in a march, but even without that, we will still see traffic jams,” he said. “It would affect traffic and public order.”
“We have let them organize it at Freedom Park without marching,” he said, adding that the city recommended 10 representatives of the group deliver the petition to the ministry.
“If the organizers are still adamant about doing it, they must be held responsible according to the law,” he said, declining to elaborate.
But those involved said they were not swayed by the warning.
“We will do it despite the ban from City Hall,” said Boeng Kak activist Song Sreyleap of the march. “We already informed them and we do not need to get their permission.”
Ee Sarom, executive director of housing rights group Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, said he hoped the government would take their message to heart.
“It takes time to get the government to consider this issue,” he said. “You can see that the land rights issue has become like a critical disease. Hopefully our ongoing activity can somehow have an influence.”
(Additional reporting by Janelle Retka)
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