PHNOM PENH - Eight residents of Phnom Penh were briefly detained through Thursday evening, for painting the words “SOS” on the corrugated roofs of their homes, next to pictures of US President Barack Obama.
Their homes are adjacent to Phnom Penh International Airport, and the detainees, who were later released, said they had hoped Obama would see their signs from his plane when he arrives for a series of summits and meetings next week, and help them in a local dispute with authorities over their land.
“The government pulled five meters of our land without compensation,” said Ouk Sokunthea, 20, whose brother was among those arrested. Authorities demanded home owners erase the messages, and when they refused, arrested them in handcuffs, she said.
The incident underscores the distrust many Cambodians have for local authorities or the courts to solve even the simplest of disputes.
Kong Phalla, a tuk-tuk taxi driver, said his wife was among those arrested in what he called “a violation of human rights.”
Meanwhile, Cambodian officials say they will not discuss human rights issues with Obama during bilateral talks next week.
Obama has been urged by US lawmakers and international rights groups to discuss Cambodia’s sliding rights record when he meets with its leaders.
But Foreign Minister Hor Namhong told reporters Thursday that bilateral talks with the president will center around the “good relationship between the two countries only.”