At least 30 demonstrators from the embattled Borei Keila neighborhood of Phnom Penh were put onto buses and moved away from City Hall, where they had been protesting a forced eviction.
Police moved the demonstrators to the Prey Speu “rehabilitation center,” in Dangkao district, where they are being held.
The residents of Borei Keila have been embroiled in the latest in a series of violent forced evictions that have led to demonstrations, but this is the first instance where police have detained protestors en masse.
Around 100 demonstrators had gathered in front of the city building to demand that authorities release eight residents arrested in clashes with police last week during a forced eviction of the neighborhood, which is slated for development.
Residents and rights groups say the development company, Phan Imex, failed to build enough housing for the number of residents that would be displaced by their development plan.
Representatives delivered a letter to city officials, but demonstrators refused to clear out afterwards. Police began pushing, hitting and kicking the demonstrators, eye witnesses and rights workers said afterwards.
“I saw police pushing a child, but when I tried to save the child during a clash, police pushed me to the ground and kicked me,” said Khieu Lay, a 38-year-old Borei Keila resident. “I have a heart condition and so I fainted.”
Nearby demonstrators revived her. Most of Wednesday’s demonstrators were women, some were children.
Heng You, a 10-year-old student from Back Tuol elementary school who came to protest with her mother, said she had not been to class for “many days.”
“I have no desire to study,” she said. “I lost my house on Jan. 3, and I have no place to live.”
Around 300 families lost their homes in the Jan. 3 forced eviction of Borei Keila, during which time residents threw rocks and bottles at police.
Am Sam Ath, a rights investigator for Licadho, said the city and national governments need to find a solution for the residents who lost their homes.
Phan Imex was supposed to build 10 housing units in a deal to share land with residents who would be dispossessed under their development plan, but the company only built eight, he said. “That’s why the villagers have no place to live.”
Phan Imex director Suy Siphan said those families who were evicted were without legal documentation and that building eight housing units was sufficient for the former residents.