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Hunger Strike Begins Amid Detained Protesters

The group, which included children, was eventually allowed to submit an appeal to King Norodom Sihamoni.

Four Boeung Kak lake demonstrators have begun a hunger strike in jail, officials said Monday.

The four women began their hunger strike on Sunday, in a bid to be released from a hasty court conviction for protesting a forced eviction in May, when they were jailed along with 11 other women from the development site.

Rights workers identified the four women on hunger strike as Tep Vanny, an outspoken leader for the protesters, Kong Chantha, Chheng Leap and Song Srey Leap.

“They are in jail, and they have the freedom to eat nothing,” said Chan Saveth, an investigator for the rights group Adhoc. “I think the government should seek a solution for them if they continue the hunger strike, as it will affect their health.”

Bov Sophoan, whose sister, Sophea, is among the 15 women in Prey Sar prison, said she received a call Sunday from Tep Vanny, who told her the hunger strike had begun. The protesters are starting with four, but the number will increase if they are not freed, Bov Sophoan said.

“They’ve been without food for two days,” she said Monday. “If no one can help them, I think they will die.”

The hunger strike comes amid increased desperation by hold-out families at the 133-hectare Boeung Kak development site, who say they are being forced out of their homes for unsatisfactory buyouts or relocations. They have been protesting since 2008 at various locations in Phnom Penh and have submitted appeals for help to city and national authorities and the office of the prime minister.

Meanwhile, the lake that once defined the neighborhood has been filled, houses have been flooded and knocked down, and thousands of families have relocated.

A group of the protesters gathered in front of the Royal Palace for the second time on Monday. The group, which included children, was eventually allowed to submit an appeal to King Norodom Sihamoni.

“I believe only the king can help us,” said Yom Bopha. “The king is the last truth for villagers, because we protested everywhere, with no result.”