WASHINGTON DC - Housing rights activists from Boeung Kak and Borei Keila say they will not give up on their protests, and are continuing to seek international help.
Two representatives from the embattled neighborhoods appeared on “Hello VOA” Thursday, explaining the ongoing problems they have had with Phnom Penh authorities and two development companies they say have forcibly evicted thousands of families and moved them to substandard relocation sites outside the city.
The evictions have sparked ongoing protests, as villagers have become increasingly desperate and determined.
“The government has an obligation to solve problems for people, as we are the owners of power, and it should not leave us like parentless children,” said Tep Vanny, an outspoken activist for Phnom Penh’s Boeung Kak development residents.
Chum Gnann, a representative for villages of the Borei Keila development, said more than 100 families have received no reparations from authorities or Phanimex, the developer of the Phnom Penh site. “I am completely fearful and risking everything,” she said.
Thousands of families have faced forced evictions in recent years, but the Boeung Kak and Borei Keila families have emerged as the most stalwart opponents to developments in their neighborhoods.
Sixty-four families at Boeung Kak and 110 families at Borei Keila have continued their protests against forced evictions at the two sites, holding demonstrations and delivering pleas to national authorities and international governments.
Two of their activists are being held in jail, on charges that appear related to the ongoing demonstrations, sparking more protests in front of Phnom Penh Municipal Court.
Protesters have also delivered a petition to Hun Manith, son of the prime minister, who is in charge of a volunteer youth organization tasked by the premier with measuring out parcels of land to preempt similar disputes. They received no response.
Chun Gnann said Thursday she only wants Phanimex to build two more buildings to house the remaining families and for activist Tim Sak Mony to be released by the courts. “Then we will stop doing the protests,” she said.
Evicted families have been relocated to sites outside the capital, where rain, pollution, and illness plague them. Their children are far from school and have had to drop out, and there is little business to be had for the families. Meanwhile, they face the possibility of arrest and detention for demonstrating.
“The hardships, I cannot even express them all, even if I cry until the sky breaks and the land breaks,” she said.
Tep Vanny said evicted villagers were being “tortured for the development of Cambodia.”
No solution is in sight, either. In an effort to assuage villagers, Prime Minister Hun Sen called for more than 12 hectares at the Boeung Kak site to be put aside for recalcitrant villagers, but even that scheme failed. Residents say the land was not fairly parsed out.
Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for the rights group Licadho, told “Hello VOA” on Thursday that the government is obliged to find a solution to such problems, through the rule of law.
“There must be respect to people’s rights, and the right to have a proper shelter, dignity and living standards,” he said.