Lake Villagers Arm Themselves Against Evictions

Villagers at the Boeung Kak lake development who clashed with police over the weekend said Monday they will continue to protest the loss of their land at the lakeside development until they are granted titles at the contentious site.

The clashes erupted on Friday, when excavators, protected by riot police, began tearing down the homes of a handful of residents. At least one youth activist for the opposition Sam Rainsy Party was beaten by police in the ensuing scuffle, party officials said, as the machines tore down eight homes to make way for a commercial and residential development.

Residents said Monday they received no warnings of the eviction and that houses were destroyed with their possessions inside. Some residents said they are now preparing to defend the other homes in the village from a similar fate.

Phan Chheang Reth, 54, said villagers were gathering rocks, clubs and knives to defend their homes.

Two dozen families in the area say they were left out of a land deal pushed last month by Prime Minister Hun Sen, who had sought a resolution to the longstanding dispute between villagers who refused to take buyouts or other deals from Shukaku, Inc., a development firm that hopes to build up 133-hectares of filled-in lake property.

Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema could not be reached for comment Monday, but he told VOA Khmer last week that the city was not issuing land titles to some families on the lakeside. They would seek to compensate them instead, he said.

The deal, which will set aside plots of land for nearly 800 families, came amid warnings from the World Bank that it would freeze funding to Cambodia if the dispute was not resolved.

But Friday’s clashes underscored how that deal has failed at least some villagers.

Phan Chheang Reth said she was devising an alarm system, whereby she will bang on an iron pot to warn fellow villagers if police approach. “I will sacrifice my life if authorities try to demolish our houses again,” she said.

Chheng Lep, a 45-year-old resident of Village 22, said eight houses were destroyed Friday. She said authorities had acted “crueler than the Pol Pot regime.”

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