Thursday, April 21, 2011

Cambodian police beat, arrest women and children in land protest

Phnom Penh - Land rights activists demanded an investigation after police on Thursday beat and arrested 11 villagers, including women and two children, who were protesting their imminent evictions in a land deal in Phnom Penh.

The residents were in a group of 100 villagers who gathered at the municipality's head office, seeking discussions over their pending evictions.

Rights workers said the villagers were surrounded by more than 100 armed riot police and military police. At least four women were knocked unconscious after being hit with electric shock batons, they said. Two others were injured in beatings, and two boys, 11 and 12, were among those arrested, they added.

The Housing Rights Task Force, a local non-governmental organization, said the authorities must stop intimidating residents of Phnom Penh's Boeung Kak lake area.

'Beating the villagers and ignoring their voices won't make the problems go away,' the organization said in a statement.

'The authorities have failed to resolve the increasingly tense situation surrounding the land grab,' it charged. 'Instead, they are using delay tactics, empty promises and have repeatedly used violence to disperse the villagers.'

Last month, the World Bank admitted that its land-titling programme, which was shut down in 2009, had failed thousands of Boeung Kak's residents who have been forcibly evicted over the past two years.

Thousands more residents - including those protesting Thursday - are under imminent threat of being evicted with little or no compensation in a controversial development deal of a 133-hectare site that is linked to a senator from the ruling Cambodian People's Party.

Few if any of Boeung Kak's residents have been able to get land title documents from the local authorities despite legal experts saying that many are entitled to them.

Cambodia's land tenure system was destroyed during decades of conflict. The World Bank's project was designed to ensure people could get land title documents.

In March, the Cambodian government warned the remaining 2,000 families to accept compensation ahead of their pending evictions or face legal action. Residents and land rights activists have long said the compensation on offer is far too low.

In recent years, land prices have rocketed across Cambodia as the economy strengthened, and tens of thousands of people have been driven off their land by the powerful and well-connected.

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