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Housing Activist Severely Beaten During Ban Visit

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, center, tours Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum in Phnom Penh, on Thursday.

The leader of a demonstration for housing rights was severely beaten by police on Thursday, as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon toured a Phnom Penh hospital.

Soun Sophoan, who attempted to lead 30 activists toward Ban's motorcade, remained in serious condition on Thursday night, after police pulled him in a headlock, beat him with batons, kicked and stomped him.

He bled from his head and appeared to be unconscious as police dragged him to a vehicle, despite the attempts of other protesters to shield him. Witnesses later said he was taken to two district government sites before he was sent to a health center in Daun Penh district.

Phnom Penh Police Chief Touch Naruth said Soun Sophoan had violated the police cordon, prompting the violence.

Thursday marked the second day in a row of clashes, as activists sought to air their grievances over Cambodia's poor human and housing rights record during the visit of the UN chief, who was touring the Cambodia-Soviet Friendship Hospital.

Prior to his arrest, Soun Sophoan said: “We came here to demand our rights and to protect our rights, but the police have dispersed us. I'm very sorry for this police prevention.”

He was recovering late Thursday at the headquarters of the rights group Lichado, the group's president, Pung Chiv Kek, said. She condemned the police violence.

Sia Phearum, an activist with the Housing Rights Task Force, said Soun Sophoan was vomiting blood and had lacerations and contusions on his face.

Other protesters said they were injured when some 300 police broke up the demonstration.

“The police were very brutal,” said Kong Chantha, 42, a resident of the Boeung Kak lake area, where housing activists are battling a development company. “The police punched me. Here is my injury. Ban Ki-moon, please help us.”