Press ReleaseCompany and Authorities Intent on Inciting Disorder in Dey Krahorm
Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO)
January 8, 2008 - The 7NG company and Phnom Penh authorities are deliberately creating an extremely volatile situation through their renewed provocative actions toward the Dey Krahorm community, LICADHO said today.
"This campaign of provocation and harassment of the community must be stopped before it further spins out of control," said LICADHO director Naly Pilorge. "The company and the authorities seem to be playing a very dangerous game of trying to incite disorder by the community at any cost, in order to be able to blame them for whatever occurs."
For the past three nights, 7NG workers and police have persistently attempted to place roadblocks on the two main public streets leading to Dey Krahorm, provoking repeatedly confrontations with community residents which culminated last night with the burning of a truck used in one of the roadblocks. Residents claim that it was 7NG workers themselves who set the truck alight, in order to accuse the community of doing it.
Tensions have escalated since 7NG workers, protected by numerous police and military police, began blocking the two roads with empty gasoline drums at 3.30am on Saturday night. Residents, fearing that access in and out of their homes would be cut, reacted by pushing the drums to the side of the road and preventing the workers from filling them with water to weigh them down.
Police maintained a loose cordon of the area throughout the night and most of Sunday. About 9.30pm on Sunday night, 7NG workers again tried up to fill the drums with water. A crowd of residents once more prevented this, and pushed the drums out of the way. Later that night, company workers re-positioned the drums, along with a parked truck, across the road to block access to Dey Krahorm from Sothearos Bvld.
On Monday, company workers or police in civilian clothes who were manning the roadblocks prevented people from delivering supplies to Dey Krahorm market - an apparent attempt to cut off the livlihoods of many community residents who make an income selling goods at the market.
About 9pm on Monday night, 7NG workers successfully filled the drums with water and placed them
across the second access road to Dey Krahorm, nearby the National Assembly. Residents once more
knocked down the drums, removing the roadblock.
Meanwhile, at about 10pm police and company workers suddenly withdrew the other road block, off Sothearos Blvd. A truck which had been positioned in the street as part of the roadblock since the beginning was driven away. However, about 30 minutes later the truck returned and was parked by company workers about 100m closer to Dey Krahorm than its previous position, and petrol drums were placed around it to block the rest of the street. Minutes later, as residents gathered in front of the new roadblock, electricity was cut to streets lamps and the nearby Ministry of Senate and National Assembly Relations, plunging the area into darkness.
After residents ran to the drums to push them aside, rocks were thrown between them and the 7NG workers. As the residents retreated, in the face of thrown rocks, the cab of the truck suddenly burst into flames.
Eyewitnesses claim that, shortly before the flames erupted, two 7NG workers ran near to the truck and then retreated quickly away from it.
Fire engines speedily arrived on the scene to douse the flames, as 7NG workers photographed the fiercely-burning vehicle. Human rights workers who examined the scene afterward found a broken bottle with traces of gasoline in it and a cigarette lighter lying on the road nearby the truck. A second bottle smelling of gasoline was found in the scorched remains of the truck's cab.
Meanwhile, in an apparently related but unexplained incident, eyewitnesses say that a man dressed in black clothes approached Dey Krahorm from the opposite direction - while most villagers were watching the burning truck - within minutes of the fire starting. The man was seen to deposit something in the ruins of a demolished house, before quickly leaving the area. Residents who went to investigate found a bunch of bamboo sticks with gasoline-soaked rags on the tops of them.
"To say the least, everything that happened around the time of the fire was highly suspicious, particularly the fact that the truck was driven away for half an hour beforehand and the street lamps were cut just before the fire started," said Naly Pilorge.
"Though it is impossible to be absolutely certain of how the fire started, it seems that at the very least 7NG and the authorities wanted something exactly like this to happen. By repeatedly trying to impose these roadblocks under the cover of darkness in the middle of night, they created an extremely tense situation which it seems they wanted, one way or another, to get out of control." LICADHO urges the authorities not to use the truck fire as a pretext to evict the remaining families from Dey Krahorm or, unless there is credible incriminating evidence, to file criminal charges against residents. At least 13 residents, including six community representatives, already face criminal charges - nearly all filed without any credible evidence - in relation to property damage or other alleged crimes against the 7NG company or local authorities.
"These roadblocks are the latest in a long campaign of harassment and incitement of the community which must stop," said Pilorge. "It is time for the Phnom Penh Municipality to step in and ensure that the situation is defused, not further escalated - if it does not, and further violence or damage occurs at Dey Krahorm, the responsibility for this will lie squarely with the municipality, police and 7NG company."
LICADHO calls for the Phnom Penh Municipality to immediately order the roadblocks' removal, and the 7NG company to cease all provocative actions and to negotiate seriously with the remaining Dey
Krahorm families to find a fair solution to the ongoing land dispute acceptable to both sides. LICADHO also notes that the Phnom Penh Municipal Court has yet to hear a lawsuit filed by the families to defend their land and property rights, and any eviction of them prior to the court ruling on their case would be unacceptable.
For more information, please contact:
• Ms Naly Pilorge, LICADHO Director, 012 803 650
• Mr Chheng Sophors, LICADHO Senior Monitor, 012 879 795