Boeung Kak lake 'land grab' protester fears for his life in Phnom Penh
Interview with the leading activist and 'land-grab' protester, Duong Kear, at his home in Phnom Penh on 15th June 2012. Since 2007, 4252 families were evicted to clear the prime real estate land for a luxury development by company Shukaku.
As the plane makes it’s final approach to Phnom Penh airport and you gaze through the window over the compact, densely packed the capital city, one image strikes: a huge swathe of unpopulated sandy ground scars the face of Cambodia like a massive yellow impetigo blister on a young child’s skin. This circular blot at the heart of the city landscape is the Boeung Kak lake, an area cleansed of all inhabitation and shanty homes to make way for a 'billion dollar' commercial development.
Since 2007, thousands of residents were evicted, some forcefully, to clear the prime real estate land. The lake, now filled with sand, is ‘owned’ by developers Shukaku Inc., a company headed by Cambodian senator Lao Meng Khin, a CPP member and apparently a friend of the country’s Prime Minister Mr Hun Sen.
Today I spoke with the leading activist and protester, Duong Kear, at his house, and protest billboard, on the edge of the lake, which is likely to be demolished soon:
How many people lived here before 2007?
“4252 families lived in the lake before they were evicted,” Kear told me.
And how many still remain on the edge of the land now?
“794 families still live around here.”
And they will be evicted from there homes?
“I don’t know for sure it’s the government and company [Shukaku] who decide,” he replied thoughtfully.
Where do the evicted families live now?
“Everywhere in Cambodia. Some live in an area behind Adong mountain [around 1.5 hours away from Phnom Penh] in shelters not houses, some live in a relocation area on the road to Battambang. All over the country.”
Thirteen women were imprisoned at Prey Sar detention centre last month for peacefully protesting against the loss of their homes at Boeung Kak. Can you comment on this?
“All we want is for the 15 people [13 women and 2 held in pre-trial detention] now in prison to have freedom. They should not be in prison.” he stated.
[The imprisonment with only a token trial, two days after the women were caught protesting, has brought worldwide condemnation on the judicial process used to imprison the women.]
You began protesting [against the government] 5 years ago when the company started to take the land. When will you stop?
“When the government give me title to my land,” he tells me firmly.
Are you scared for your personal safety?
“Yes I am very scared that someone will shoot me. I cannot stay in my house at night. Every night I sleep somewhere different. Secret. The man in this picture is in charge of Phnom Penh [pointing to an image on his notice board]. He jailed the women and he wants me out of the area too,” replied Duong Kear as I photographed him around his home this morning.
The home-owners were, according to officials, “illegally” squatting on government land. They were offered compensation of up to $8000 to move out. Some dwellers on the land took the money quickly and relocated to the provinces as, according to a resident who took the cash and moved: “We knew Hun Sen was going to take the land anyway. If we did not take the money we would have got nothing in the end. The people [in power] do what they want,” the relocated owner told me on the phone. He wished to remain anonymous.