Boeung Kak activists found guilty

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Tue, 20 September 2016, by and

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A supporter holds an image of Boeung Kak lake activist Tep Vanny during a protest at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday. Hong Menea

Four Boeung Kak lake activists were convicted and sentenced to six months in jail yesterday for their roles in a 2011 scuffle with security personnel outside City Hall, a ruling defence attorneys insisted was accompanied by a glaring lack of evidence.

The four – Tep Vanny, Bo Chhorvy, Heng Mom and Kong Chantha – were found guilty of insulting and obstructing public officials as the “ringleaders” of the nearly five-year-long protest. Chantha was found guilty in absentia. Continue reading “Boeung Kak activists found guilty”

Boeung Kak activists found guilty

Boeung Kak activists petition World Bank, EU

Source: Phnom Penh Post | Thu, 15 September 2016, by and

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Boeung Kak lake activists hold placards outside the European Union Embassy in Phnom Penh yesterday during a protest calling for the release of Tep Vanny. Pha Lina

Close to 20 Boeung Kak lake activists petitioned the European Union and World Bank yesterday asking for their intervention on behalf of jailed fellow activist Tep Vanny and a swift resolution to their land dispute. Continue reading “Boeung Kak activists petition World Bank, EU”

Boeung Kak activists petition World Bank, EU

Call for Better Handling of Land Disputes

Source: Khmer Times | Wed, 13 September 2016, by Pech Sotheary

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Beoung Kak villagers hold banners as they protest over their ongoing land dispute in front of the World Bank of ce in February. KT/ Chor Sokunthea

Civil society organizations yesterday repeated calls for land disputes to be resolved quickly, peacefully and without authorities using police and the courts to put pressure on communities.

Speaking at an event celebrating poor urban communities at the American Intercon School yesterday, more than 200 people, including representatives from affected communities around the capital, discussed the ongoing issue of forced evictions and what they can do to minimize potential violence and distress.

Sao Kosal, a technical program manager with local urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, stressed that many of the problems surrounding land disputes were due to authorities not understanding the law.

“Land issues have happened mostly when law enforcement acts incorrectly, especially as the land management law clearly states how citizens have the right to own and build their houses,” he told the audience.

“But the law is not effective as law enforcement is not constructively effective, and we have found that issues stemming from corruption have made land dispute resolution even more difficult.”

Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator at rights group Licadho, noted that protesting is a natural response when officials do not fulfill their obligations to properly resolve disputes and instead use repression, violence and the judicial system to punish communities.

“Governmental development requires that they start dealing with people properly and fairly, in ways that can be acceptable to citizens.”

He singled out the banning of protests and marches by authorities as a clear sign of overreaching their power and hindering Cambodians’ rights to freedom of expression.

Efforts by the government are appreciated, said Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community coordinator Theng Savoeun, highlighting the more than 30 commissions set up to resolve land disputes, but he added that things were still moving too slowly and were too political.

According to Land Minister Chea Sophara last month, there are only about 800 active land disputes in the country, down from 7,000 at the start of the year.

Kheu Lai, a former resident of the Borei Keila community who was forcibly evicted, told the audience about the hardships her family had faced after losing their house, land and livelihood.

She called on the government to better liaise with affected communities before they take any action, in order to explain what was planned and why, and to discuss compensation and relocation options.

Land Management Ministry spokesman Cheam Sophal Makara stressed that the government and the ministry were working hard to resolve disputes in accordance with Cambodia’s laws.

“Their statements were made because they have not seen the actual actions or the new solutions.  I think that their statements show concern, and they won’t feel concern if they see the action of our working groups to resolve disputes,” he told Khmer Times.

“The Land Ministry welcomes information on all the land problems of citizens and we will solve all of the people’s issues.”

Call for Better Handling of Land Disputes

Borei Keila, Boeung Kak evictees march through capital

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Fri, 9 September 2016, by

About 50 land evictees marched unimpeded from the US Embassy to Phnom Penh City Hall yesterday despite recent crackdowns on political petitions and protests tied to opposition deputy leader Kem Sokha and the detention of human rights activists.

Twelve Borei Keila families, who claim they have not been compensated after the Phanimex company evicted them and built only eight of a promised 10 new apartment buildings to house former residents, demanded a meeting with Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong.

Village representative Pho Sophin said she was disappointed he did not meet with them, adding that families were still suffering from the losses of their homes four years ago.

“The City Hall governor does not care about the villagers,” she said. “If he cared about us, he would settle the problem for us … they don’t see us as human.”

The protesters were joined by former Boeung Kak residents, who claim that the housing and the $8,500 they accepted in compensation are inadequate. They are seeking a further $20,000 for each family.

City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada was not aware of the protest but said the municipality was working to resolve their disputes.

Borei Keila, Boeung Kak evictees march through capital

Court questions Boeung Kak’s Tep Vanny

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Fri, 9 September 2016, by

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Tep Vanny calls out to supporters from a police van at the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, where she was questioned yesterday over charges of intentional violence stemming from 2013. Pha Lina

Boeung Kak land activist Tep Vanny was brought before an investigating judge at Phnom Penh Municipal Court yesterday morning for questioning on a charge of intentional violence with aggravating circumstances that dates to 2013.

Court spokesman Ly Sophana said Vanny was accused of having led a group of Boeung Kak land activists who clashed with police on March 13 that year as they attempted to “storm” Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence to deliver a petition seeking his intervention in their long-running land dispute.

However, leaving the courtroom, Vanny was incredulous, questioning why it had taken three years for the prosecutor to charge her.

“If I committed violence in front of Samdech’s [Hun Sen] house in 2013, maybe I would have lost my life since then. Certainly I would have gone to jail already,” Vanny said.

She was arrested on August 15 along with several others for cursing effigies during a Black Monday protest. While her alleged accomplice, Bov Sophea, was released one week later, Vanny remains at Prey Sar prison on the 2013 charge.

“I’m not shocked that they are trying to colour me again and again. It’s just a strategy to deprive our freedom of expression in demanding justice for the Boeung Kak community,” she said.

Am Sam Ath, technical coordinator at rights group Licadho, agreed with Vanny’s analysis.

“We saw them that day; they prayed with scarecrows and they are innocent. But she is an active community representative so they dredged up an old case to interrogate her and intimidate the community,” Sam Ath said.

Court questions Boeung Kak’s Tep Vanny

OCIC protesters burn tyres, present petition

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Thu, 8 September 2016, by

Residents of Phnom Penh’s Chroy Changvar district yesterday held simultaneous protests against development firm the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC), with one group delivering a petition to the Ministry of Land Management and the other burning tyres at a site where company workers were seen bulldozing.

Among the demands made of the ministry by the 20 protesters present were a halt to OCIC’s ongoing activities on the land and the acceleration of the resolution to their long-standing land dispute after a consensus on compensation for the reclamation of their land by OCIC could not be reached.

According to Chea Sophat, the villagers’ representative, City Hall will either compensate villagers $15 per square metre of land or allow villagers to keep 10 per cent of their total land.

“We cannot take this proposal. It is unjust and lower than the market price,” he said, adding that Chea Sophara, former Phnom Penh City Hall official who is now land management minister, had a good reputation for solving problems concerning land disputes.

An undersecretary of state at the ministry, Tep Thun, told the protesters to “please wait for our intervention. Don’t rush; it is a big case . . . We need a concrete review [of the case].”

Meanwhile, a separate group of villagers burned tyres and protested when bulldozers were spotted clearing land. The protest lasted from about 8am to 4pm.

OCIC protesters burn tyres, present petition

Governor pushes for mosque road, offers consultation

Source: Phnom Penh Post |Thu, 8 September 2016, by and

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People enter the grounds of the al-Serkal mosque in Phnom Penh yesterday, where city officials met with locals to discuss a controversial road project. Heng Chivoan

Phnom Penh’s governor yesterday made a prolonged pitch for development to the neighbours of a Boeung Kak mosque site – where a planned road sparked a recent legal feud – offering locals an olive branch in the form of community consultation, while also hinting that the road’s construction was a foregone conclusion.

Governor Pa Socheatvong articulated a four-point plan to install a drainage system, running water and electricity – along with the controversial road – for the broader Boeung Kak area, which has been a powder-keg for protests since the one-time lake was filled with sand and residents were forced from their homes in 2008.

But Socheatvong’s promise of public participation at the forum, held in the shadow of the Al-Serkal mosque, appeared to ring hollow, with City Hall spokesman Mean Chanyada admitting officials had already signed off on a map for the proposed road, which would cut into the mosque compound.

“Yes, we have a map . . . we already approved it,” he said. Chanyada, however, declined to make the map available to the Post, saying “other newspapers did not want it”.

Socheatvong yesterday extolled the virtues of developing the area and touted the benefits a road would bring. He urged the community to gather seven representatives to consult with City Hall on the matter, while also noting that it was Prime Minister Hun Sen’s desire to develop the area, and insinuated that the road would be built regardless.

“If you can compromise quickly, I will invest to develop this area to be better, and quickly. If there’s no compromise, it is hard to help,” Socheatvong said. “We want a compromise,” he continued, before adding: “We have to do so, to have traffic here.”

“Can you imagine how good it would be to have traffic here?” he asked the crowd. In other words, Socheatvong said, “If there is no road, there is no hope. If a place has roads, the price of real estate is also good. The bigger the road is, the higher the price of real estate.”

But it was real estate that, in part, gave rise to the controversy surrounding the road plan, sparking a defamation suit in May between prominent Cham Muslim leaders Othsman Hassan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labour, and Ahmad Yahya, himself a secretary of state at the Ministry of Social Affairs.

Hassan successfully sued Yahya for 100 million riel (about $24,000) over comments he made about Hassan’s potential business interests in the road that were deemed defamatory by the court.

Yahya, who was present at the forum, did not rule out the development and welcomed the consultation with local Muslims, but also warned municipal officials they should listen to the community if they wanted to be re-elected.

“The question is whether the municipality will listen to the people or not,” he said. “The Islamic community doesn’t want to have the road through the main entrance. They just want it to go around like a curve.”

Views within the Cham Muslim community varied on the construction of a road that could cut into the mosque compound, although opinions were difficult to gauge given the reticence surrounding the road’s precise path.

One Muslim student, who lives adjacent to the mosque compound but declined to be named, said he had no problem with the road, provided an equal amount of land would be provided at the rear of the mosque compound as compensation.

But Cham resident Yok Kao, 70, who lives behind the mosque, said the road should not be built in order to maintain the worship centre’s atmosphere of reverence.

“It is a place for praying, not for dancing,” he said. “It is a quiet place and should stay quiet. People who support the road, they just want to have money.”

Governor pushes for mosque road, offers consultation