Echoes of the violent eviction of hundreds of families from Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila community five years ago emanated on Tuesday from a protest held to mark the anniversary, as state security guards manhandled evictees who attempted to occupy a building on the site.
Prampi Makara district security guards dragged women down the building’s stairwell, seized their belongings and beat them as a scuffle ensued just outside the apartment block. One woman appeared to be left unconscious, though none sustained serious injuries.
Prampi Makara district security guards pull a woman down the stairs of an apartment building in Phnom Penh’s Borei Keila neighborhood, where evictees staged a protest to mark five years since they were kicked off their land. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)On the same day in 2012, a violent clash erupted when military police and police confronted about 200 villagers who attempted to defend their land against a planned construction project by Phanimex, a firm owned by powerful businesswoman Suy Sophan.
In exchange for the 2.6 hectare plot in Borei Keila, Ms. Sophan promised to build 10 apartment buildings to house the 1,776 affected families. Only eight were constructed, however, before her company claimed bankruptcy.
More than 300 families were left without homes, and 140 were resettled on a rural strip of land in Kandal province’s Phnom Bat commune, where they have complained for years of squalid living conditions. Despite promises of improvements, they still lack clean water, electricity, schools and health care facilities.
Thirty-five of about 70 families still living there returned to the eviction area in the days leading up to Tuesday’s anniversary with the intent of moving into a building adjacent to the eight apartment blocks—an act of protest meant to secure further compensation from the government.
“I’ll go back if the government provides a better solution for us,” San Sarom, 32, said on Tuesday morning, hours after arriving from Kandal.
The group joined 10 families of former neighbors already living there in a peaceful anniversary ceremony in the morning. But as monks arrived to lead the group in prayer at about 9:30 a.m., district security guards poured in and broke up the event.
Former Borei Keila residents scuffle with Prampi Makara district security guards in Phnom Penh on Tuesday on the 5th anniversary of their eviction. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)Officials immediately headed into the apartments, gathering wicker furniture and bags of clothing and dragging a group of women clinging to their belongings behind them. As they reached the stairs, however, the officials relented on clearing out items, instead beginning to thrust women down the stairs.
“You must go back to the place you have come from,” the guards yelled.
“We have no place to go,” a villager shouted back.
The group eventually reached the ground floor, where they bickered as about 30 riot police armed with batons and shields lined a narrow road leading up to the building.
“You must go back to your house. The Veal Vong commune office will not recognize you because you already moved to Phnom Bat,” commune chief Keo Sakal announced to the villagers as the tension subsided. “We have no right to let you stay here.”
Within an hour, riot police abandoned the scene.
At about 11:30 a.m., however, the situation escalated once more as the protesters attempted to re-enter the building. Guards flung belongings from the apartments and women were once again forcefully corralled down the stairs—this time yelling “Pol Pot!” at the guards they were resisting.
Prak Hak, the chief of the district security guards, told the women he would “rip your mouth out” as they hurled insults at his men.
After about 10 minutes of scuffling, Mr. Hak lunged toward activist Kim Sarann, pushing her into a tin wall, witnesses said. Several women, including Ms. Sarann, were then followed into the shops lining the ground floor of the buildings developed on their old land, where at least three women were injured.
Former Borei Keila residents protest near the site in Phnom Penh where they were evicted from five years ago. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
“They beat me. They slapped my face and grabbed my