Representatives from at least seven different neighborhoods convened in a demonstration in Phnom Penh on Tuesday, marking the three-year anniversary of a violent forced eviction that pushed out hundreds of families.
Protesters tore their shirts and removed their shoes, some claiming the ruling Cambodian People’s Party had given them T-shirts and $2.50 for favorable votes in the last election.
“These shoes are a message to the government to think about villagers before development,” said Chan Vichet, a representative of former residents of Dey Krahorm, which three years ago saw hundreds of families violently pushed from their homes.
The Dey Krahorm event was a harbinger of evictions to come, with residents from the the neighborhoods of Boeung Kak lake and Borei Keila the most prominent among scores of forced moves.
The evictions have entailed long standoffs between residents and developers, confusion over land titling and accusations of swindling—and ultimately end with the use of government security forces and violence to push residents from their homes.
Residents have found themselves on inferior relocation sites far outside the city, lacking clean water, businesses and access to schools.
Rath Sophal, 32, has been living at a site called Damnak Traying, 30 kilometers from the capital, since being pushed from Dey Krahorm.
“I have an old mother, and she is always finding frogs and crabs to feed my children,” Rath Sophal said. “Everyone here has difficulties living, and no government officials have come to see us.”
Sia Phearum, director of the Housing Rights Task Force, an advocacy group, said that debt and unemployment increase for villagers after they are evicted.
Around seven in 10 relocated families find themselves in debt after an eviction, up from only half, and joblessness went from around 18 percent to more than 35 percent after the evictions.
The group counted nearly 50 community evictions last year alone, affecting almost 12,000 families.
Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema was not available for comment Tuesday.