Land rights activists arrested in Cambodian capital

Seven women detained in protest over flooding allegedly caused by real estate development.

Update: 13:43, 10 November 2014 Monday

World Bulletin/News Desk

Seven land rights protesters were arrested in Phnom Penh Monday as they demonstrated over flooding they say has been caused by an abandoned real estate project, local media reported.

The women from the Boeng Kak neighborhood were detained as they tried to block a main road in the capital, the Cambodia Daily said.

Residents have become a regular feature of protests in recent years after Shukaku Inc, a company owned by Senator Lao Meng Khin, began filling in a lake close to their homes.

Around 3,000 families were evicted to make way for the multi-million dollar project, which has since stalled, leaving a barren wasteland where the lake once stood. Residents claim the work has caused severe flooding that the authorities have done nothing about.

Land rights are a prominent issue in Cambodia where developers, often connected to powerful government figures, are given or take residential or farm land. The case of Boeng Kak is one of the most high profile, due in part to the site’s location at the center of the capital and the residents’ unrelenting protests.

In an April report, rights group Adhoc said land activists were “constantly threatened and judicially harassed.” The group recorded 109 cases of activists being charged in relation to disputes in 2013.

Adhoc said evictions were “all too frequent” in Cambodia, despite promises by the government that a moratorium would be put in place on new land concessions.

“Thousands of Cambodians are locked in land disputes, some of which have been ongoing for over a decade,” it added.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche told The Anadolu Agency that the women were being held at police headquarters.

The Daily reported a group of about 20 activists dragged a bedframe into the middle of Monivong Boulevard, one of Phnom Penh’s busiest streets and home to municipal offices.

The women were arrested after the protest moved to the front of City Hall.

Five of those arrested had previoiusly been prosecuted while protesting against the demolition of homes in 2012. Human Rights Watch said their trial “failed to meet even the most rudimentary fair trial standards.”