PHNOM PENH, Cambodia — One hundred one guns flashed against a quiet summer sky, then the sound of conch shells pierced the air. Norodom Sihanouk — Cambodia’s two-time king and former prime minister — had been placed onto his final funeral pyre.
Sihanouk’s son, King Noradom Sihamoni, and his widow, Queen Norodom Monineath, set alight the ornate pyre. The bright display pumped white smoke into the air over the country’s capital just after the sun had slipped below an unusually pink February sky.
Cambodians have been mourning their beloved, mercurial King-Father for months now.
Want to visit an Internet cafe in downtown Phnom Penh? If the government has its way, that might not be an option for too much longer.
New circular 1815 has been put out by the Cambodian government that states that Internet cafes shouldn’t be allowed to operate within 500 meters of schools or educational institutions. Further, people under 18 won’t be allowed to use Internet cafes either, and no one will be allowed to play “all kinds of games.” Why?
Because Cambodians are apparently engaging in terrorism, economic crimes, and even looking at pornography with the benefit of the Internet. (And here I thought they were all just playing Facebook). You can read the circular in Khmer here.
OK. These directives sound simple enough, if rather insulting—until you take into account just how many schools there really are here in Phnom Penh.
Human rights NGO LICADHO is on the case—and they’ve produced a rather damning map of Cambodian schools, with the requisite 500 meter No Internet Zone drawn around them. As you can see, that leaves essentially no room for Internet cafes to operate, and spells big trouble for the many already extant within the red-zones. Problem.
What would happen if an Internet cafe is caught within the red zone, or if a “crime” is committed on the premises? The circular, according to LICADHO, says the shop would be closed, all the equipment would be confiscated, and owners would face arrest. No big.
Furthermore, average Cambodian Internet users would suddenly find themselves with very limited access to information—likely the intended result of the circular.
“There is nowhere for the Internet cafes to go,” said Urban Voice Cambodia team member Nora Lindström at a mapping meeting last night of the new circular.
“That means only people who have personal computers can access the Internet, while people who are using Internet cafes will not be able to access the internet. This is a issue of freedom of expression, and freedom to access information.”
I’ve got to wonder how exactly this directive might apply to hotels and cafes that provide free computers for customers to use, although they’re not primarily “Internet cafes” as such. I have a rather sneaking suspicion that lucrative businesses that cater primarily to Internet-addicted foreigners would probably be able to get away with an exemption—or at least some healthy bribes.
Sure, it’s unclear exactly how much power a “circular” actually has to effect change here in Cambodia, or if this is likely to ever become law. But the fact it’s floating around at all is a disturbing indication that the Cambodian government is looking into restricting its relatively free Internet, following the deeply dubious lead of China, an influential friend to the Hun Sen regime.
Furthermore, they’re doing it in a way that’s downright condescending. Did they really think the pro-Internet freedom lobby would fail to notice and condemn this immediately?
Finally: even if this measure never becomes law, it’s enough of a Sword of Damocles over the heads of Internet cafe owners. It could easily be used as a rationale for unscrupulous sorts in the government to collect hefty bribes from owners if they want to continue operating. As we well know, that could get ugly.
No one knows exactly where these cafes are in relation to schools, and putting them down on paper could help alert the owners whose businesses are at risk of closure, or at least serious extortion.
Furthermore, this action would indicate to the government that Internet freedom supporters are absolutely paying attention—and a supposedly “sneaky” circular like the Internet Cafe rule is by no means going to go unnoticed.
“We want to crowd-source the location of all the Internet cafes in PP, because whether or not the government decides to implement this decree—which seems unimplementable—it does allow them threaten and intimidate owners of internet cafes to pay bribes to continue operating,” said Nora Lindström.
So if you’ve got any time this week and are an advocate of the free Internet in Cambodia, head to Urban Voice Cambodia and document your friendly neighborhood Internet cafe. You can submit a report here, and it’s a very easy process. Every little bit helps.
Bloggers are about the same everywhere, I guess. Fractious and noisy. Exuberant, opinionated, occasionally make questionable clothing choices. Might have been considered “weird” in school. Vanguards of social revolution and change—that too. You ignore them at your own peril.
This particular motley pack of Asia bloggers convened at Build Bright University, a small college of something or another outside Siem Reap, placed in the middle of what appeared to be a loosely residential neighborhood, mixed with a small dairy-and-water-lily farm. The bloggers came from 12 Asian countries, a smattering hailing from further afield (including yours truly). Their ages ranged from 14 to in their 70s. Many were professionals, some were students, some had even achieved the holy grail of professional blogging. All fervently wanted to geek out.
Siem Reap is the small city adjacent to Angkor Wat, and is by far the most heavily touristed place in Cambodia—a fact not lost on the attendees, who gathered to watch sunsets, sunrises, and things in between at the archaeological ruins. Many of them were travel bloggers, after all. Catnip.
It is worth pointing out the disconnect between Cambodia’s ubiquitous small, naked children, lotus ponds and wooden, ramshackle homes—right outside the conference—with a cosmopolitan group of tech geeks, most sporting expensive equipment.
However: I don’t see this as some sort of fell indicator of social injustice. The fact that such a gathering is happening in Cambodia at all is, in my estimation, a remarkable indicator of social change.
Further: the Cambodian could have swiftly squashed this gathering if they so chose, but it didn’t. In fact, Cambodian Minister of Information Khieu Kanharith attended and gave out awards on Monday, the final day of the conference. Blogger and event organizer Kounila Keo told me that she ran the schedule of the event by him—including multiple named workshops on Internet freedom—and he expressed no apprehension.
Would that happen in China or Vietnam? I don’t think so.
Sadly, Cambodians seem to get very little love from the mainstream media. They have few choices: they are genocidal and backwards. They are Noble Savages who smile a lot and have not quite got the hang of industrialization, bless them. But the Cambodian bloggers I know are not content to conform to this heat-addled stereotype. They firmly believe that technology and free speech will eventually win out against the forces that are arrayed against them.
And that goes for the other Asian bloggers in attendance, many of whom reside in often-overlooked but swiftly developing nations . Did you know that Filipinos send around 2 billion text messages a day, the most in the world? Or that Indonesians are the world’s biggest users of Twitter, and have collectively created over 5 million blogs? That in only 2 years of rapid change, Myanmar is approaching three percent Internet penetration?
These are all remarkable stats. These are all somewhat little-known stats. This is why I am glad I attended Blogfest Asia 2012.
“We somehow have the perception the world only goes on in Europe and the United States, when in fact many things are happening in Southeast Asia,” observed SPIDER (Swedish Program for ICT in Developing Regions) board member and event speaker David Isaakson to me.
“It’s amazing that so many people are using this [social media] in countries with a situation with less freedom of expression or government control,” he added. “Social media becomes even more important when you don’t see unbiased reporting in national channels.”
Definitely. Citizen journalists, as we’ve seen in the Middle East, step up to fill the gap when the mainstream media either can’t get in, or does’t have the funding or motivation to cover stories considered to be of minimal international interest. For the first time, bloggers—even those who are operating under considerable danger—have the means to speak out against oppression in a very visible way. This scares the crap out of governments, and empowers tech-savvy people who might formally have been relatively helpless in the arena of speaking-truth-to-power. Ignore them at your own peril.
That simple reality ended up politicizing the event to some extent, perhaps more than the planners had anticipated. Almost every nation represented had an axe to grind: that people from all these nations were then able to come together and compare notes on what they’re up against is heartening in the extreme.
Meanwhile, the Cambodians weren’t shy about expressing their trepidation over the planned, feared Internet cyber-crimes draft law. The government claims it’s to protect against terrorism, but the bloggers are much more suspicious: they think the law will serve as a convenient method of cracking down on dissidents, much in the fashion of Vietnam or Thailand.
Cambodians currently enjoy one of the freest networks in Southeast Asia, and they are fully aware of the options this accords them: although most attendees were willing to play a bit of wait-and-see, they also were quite vocal about their apprehension.
Fai Suluck from Thailand discussed the situation in her own country, where strict lese majeste laws and fear stemming from recent military unrest have kept bloggers relatively silent.
She described the law and its dampening affects on freedom of speech in Thailand to the attentive crowd, then issued a warning: “…For countries about to have this law passed, yes: go against it.”
It’s becoming increasingly dangerous to be a peaceful protester in many parts of the world, and impoverished, corrupt Cambodia is no exception.
Since November 2011, gun violence against peaceful protesters has been on the rise in this troubled Southeast Asian nation. Local NGO Licadho has found that five land-dispute protests turned violent between November and January of 2012, while a city governor has been personally involved in a February garment factory dispute. Almost no arrests have been made in these incidents, and the police seem markedly disinterested in pursuing prosecution.
In what has become perhaps the most widely publicized case, a city governor personally fired into a crowd of 1000 garment factory protesters in Bavet, seriously injuring a 21-year-old woman and wounding two others. Bavet city governor Chhouk Bandith promptly disappeared after the shooting, although he allegedly showed up at the woman’s hospital to ask her not to press charges in exchange for money.
Even Cambodia’s deputy prime minister has jumped into the fray, after local police, at his request, offered the 21-year-old victim $500 if she did not press charges. The young woman, who is nursing a serious chest injury, refused the money, committing a noble act that may come to haunt her later under Cambodia’s current leadership. As for the governor, he has lost his job –although he will still retain a provincial government post of some kind.
Trafficking is indisputably a big problem, but many outside observers in Cambodia make the mistake of assuming every woman in the sex trade is a trafficked and helpless victim. Although the electroshocked zombiefied 14-year-olds of Kristofian writing are definitely out there, there are plenty of over-18 women who have decided the sex trade appeals to them considerably more than working for minimum wage at a garment factory.
This passage from the article linked above is of particular interest…
“In the sex workers’ union office in Phnom Penh, a banner pinned to the wall reads, “Don’t talk to me about sewing machines. Talk to me about workers’ rights.”
Cambodia’s anti-human-trafficking law has given rise to police raids on brothels where sex workers are “rescued” and retrained for jobs in low-wage garment factories. Workers get minimal instruction to operate sewing machines and usually receive no wages during the two- or three-month training period.”
I’ve also heard heresy of former prostitutes being “rescued,” locked in training centers, and escaping back into the streets….doubtless while their saviors scratch their heads in confusion. But is their reaction really so strange?
I am the same age as many of Phnom Penh’s bar girls, and I liked chatting with them at the foreigner-frequented girly bars I would occasionally find myself at. They were charming, spoke good English, and were usually happy to talk with a foreign woman their own age. Although I couldn’t exactly delve into their personal lives over a beer or two, they didn’t seem like they were being locked in a prison or forced into slavery or regularly beaten with chains.
Maybe life at the bars was not their first life choice, but in their minds, it was probably an improvement over life in the rice paddy, or a job in a poorly insulated and potentially dangerous factory.
These motivations would be considered pretty normal for an intelligent young woman, if these women didn’t just so happen to be impoverished Cambodians. Curiously enough, the idea that these women might enjoy drinking beer, having sex, and hanging around in bars more than menial labor is considered to be something close to blasphemy in some circles. Me? I’m 23, and I believe it.
If we want to stamp out prostitution and the sex trade in Cambodia—and we never will entirely—we need to help women get decent and decent jobs, jobs considerably more appealing than minimum wage sewing work.
As it is, assuming that every single bar girl—prostitute or otherwise, and many are not—is both victimized and helpless is downright patronizing. Let’s give these women some credit for their intelligence and initiative in a desperate situation. Do you really think you’d choose much differently if you were in their shoes? I know I wouldn’t.
Borei Keila evictee Art Samnang spoke to me yesterday after her second arrest.
Land Grabs in Cambodia
Human rights in Cambodia have gone from bad to worse in January, prompting Human Rights Watch to issue a damning report on the Southeast Asian nation’s rights slide.
The Cambodian government has been especially rough on protesters demonstrating against an apparent land grab. Rampant government-backed private development means those unlucky enough to live in the path of progress are taking to the streets in a desperate attempt to find justice.
January has already seen the violent eviction of hundreds from their former homes at the Borei Keila slum—forcing over 300 “extra” families not provided for by the Phan Imex development company to take to the streets of the capital city of Phnom Penh. Eight were arrested in the eviction fray for resisting the government, and remain in prison.
Cambodia is in the throes of another land-grab drama in the early days of 2012, after the Borei Keila slum development was suddenly razed on the morning of January 3rd. The wealthy Phan Imex development company had promised the slum’s residents 10 alternate apartment buildings to make up for their soon-to-be destroyed homes: instead, the company built only 8 facilities.
Many Borei Keila residents fought back against riot police, in a fray that lasted half a day and saw plentiful injures on both sides. But the villagers couldn’t hold out long: 300 families soon found themselves out on the streets.
The luckiest among them were eventually allowed to take plots of land in desolate and far-off relocation sites, with hygiene and safety standards worse than those found in many refugee camps. The unlucky are now homeless, roaming the streets of Phnom Penh and asking for help from anyone who will listen. Despite protests outside Western embassies, no international help is forthcoming for the abandoned of Borei Keila.
This is a photo essay about the Borei Keila site itself, which I managed to get into after my friend Alex, who lives near the site, texted me to tell me the police had finally moved away from the area. Cops barred my previous attempts to get into the site, after some heart-wrenching photographs were released to the public from the January 3rd violence.
“They tore down one building and they’re tearing down another,” he told me. My boyfriend and I immediately headed over to the site.
I scrambled around on rebar, tile, and brick, and took some photos of the collapsed apartment building. Many random possessions—bras, stuffed animals, clothing items—were strewn among the bricks. Some of these things probably belonged to the protesters I’ve spoken with outside the US Embassy.
This woman was trash-picking the wreckage of the apartment complex. I don’t know if she lived there or not.
It is at times difficult to avoid the Stuffed Animal Poignantly Sits Amid Wreckage photograph. In any case, it tells the story.
These kids live at Borei Keila and were interested in me and my camera. I’ve heard the apartment complexes they are standing in front of are slated for destruction in the near future. I hope they have somewhere to go.
This woman was hanging laundry outside her apartment. I think this complex will be taken down soon as well. As my boyfriend pointed out, the hanging trees make the complex look almost like an Angkor-era temple.
Change-agent. Friendly construction workers. Like they have a say in this one way or the other. Some of these guys probably live in very similar conditions.
As my boyfriend and I went through my photos, we stopped at this shot of kids playing outside the still-standing complex. “They were playing some game involving shooting each other,” I told him.
“They were playing riot police against villagers,” he said. “Look at the cardboard shields.”
I’m almost certain he was right. These three kids, after all, saw one of Phnom Penh’s most violent housing riots in recent years on Tuesday. Cops armed with riot shields shot rubber bullets at residents armed with stones and Molotov cocktails. Many were injured on both sides.
Why wouldn’t they decide to emulate the most terrifying – and exciting – event they’ve probably ever seen?
This kid was playing with a toy excavator extremely similar to the one taking down what may have been his former home. The irony was probably lost on him, but I doubt it was lost on the small group of hard-faced adults standing nearby.
The Borei Keila site is directly behind a bus station where there are always at least 30 foreign tourists having a drink and awaiting the next bus out. They probably have no idea what has happened to the former residents of Borei Keila. I like to hope they’ll pick up a local English paper at some point during their visit here and realize what was going on literally behind their backs.
A food vendor has set up shop outside Borei Keila, and a couple of families seem to have taken up residence on mats set up in this sandy corridor, in lieu of anywhere better to go. This man was selling eggs. He didn’t look very happy to see me.
I wish it was easier to explain sometimes why I’m taking pictures of other people’s pain.
The common theme in these examples of extreme government force?
A total lack of respect for Cambodia’s own people.
Cambodia has become a country so divided by rich and poor that I suspect the top-brass of this nation find it difficult to regard their poorer relatives as people, much less as equal players in an ostensibly democratic society.
Brutal violence against the poor seems to be becoming more normal. We may recall the beating of a Boueng Kak lake protester late last year into a bloody pulp. We may recall the constant clashes between police and protesters at the lake – clashes which forced the World Bank into action (not that it seems to give two farts about Borei Keila).
The people of Cambodia were under the impression that the boot of the powerful had finally, after so much suffering and battle, been removed from their necks. Instead, the poor are finding themselves ground face-first into the dirt once again—in the most literal sense of the word.
Interesting debate on Twitter today over whether Cambodia’s course of development will more closely mirror that of India or China.
The consensus? It’s going to be much more like China. China has achieved a true economic miracle in the past 20 or 30 years.
It has done so by means of forced evictions, the violent suppression of free speech, liberal prison terms, a widely enforced death penalty, and the deployment of a police state so profoundly creepy that it has every ostensibly free Western nation worried.
This is in stark contrast to India, where a robust, if shockingly corrupt democracy, means that people do have some legal apparatus to fight back when a developer wants to take their land. It takes a long time to get things built in India because of this. Some might argue it takes too long.
But India, at least for the time being, isn’t willing to pay the price in human suffering that China has for rapid economic development. For that reason, I’ll take India over China anytime, anywhere, for any reason.
Things are better in this country than they used to be – no one will dispute that. But as one mototaxi driver and Khmer Rouge survivor told us at Phnom Bat last week: “This (the evictions) reminds me of the Khmer Rouge time.”
If someone who survived one of the most murderous regimes in human history is drawing the analogy—the analogy a lot of us international commentators are awfully loathe to draw— perhaps we’d best listen.
Last year, we had Preah Vihear. This year, instead of Thai on Cambodian aggression, Cambodia appears to be turning on its own people.
Worst of all, it is turning on the poor and defenseless.
The Phnom Penh Municipality issued another poor explanation for its detention of 30 women and children at the Prey Speu Social Detention Center Friday. I’m here once again to break it down for you.
Claiming to have “investigated” the 22 families detained at the center, the City found…..
“14 families illegally bought the house on the State’s land (during the restricted period). In exchange to that illegally bought-houses the authority offer compensations with a new plot of land, but sadly they rejected the offer;
06 families illegally bought the house on the State’s land but not for living; instead, they rent it out; (Right, what with being poor and all. One would think if you owned a house, you’d have the right to do whatever you wanted to do it with it.)
01 family had been compensated with a house but later on the house was sold. This family is asking for a new one for their children. (Because keeping an entire extended and prolific Cambodian family together in one tiny apartment will work out great for everyone involved.)
01 family is an opportunist-squatter. This family stayed on the spot hoping for compensation. Initially, they agreed to the authority offer of 500USD and a plot of land but later on they rejected the offer. (Because that is a lousy offer. Having seen those plots of land, I agree with evictees who said “they aren’t fit for a dog.” Further, having talked to these evictees, the cash offers were more along the lines of $50—and those who did receive plots of land often had to pay cash to get them)
One pities the city authorities. Trying so hard to get by with their paltry incomes, scraping for gas to fill up their Lexuses and keep their wives in high-end footwear—and these horrible evictees are asking for something more than a piss-stained plot of land in the middle of nowhere in exchange for their long-term homes.
We would like you to thoroughly consider is it appropriate that some families illegally bought the house on the state’s land while others initially agreed to the arranged compensation policy but later on they rejected the offers?
Poor developers – it must have just slipped your mind to build those last two apartment complexes.
After all— it’s so easy to forget to complete major building projects. (Case in point: the Phnom Penh skyline).
Now, here’s the real winner of the statement….
“Transferring these 22 families to temporary stay in Prey Speu Center does not mean that they are under detention. The purpose is to give them a proper care and provide vocational trainings. But if you still accuse that the authority attempts to detain them, we would like to question if they were under detention why they can freely and comfortably make phone calls out or contact outside the center? During their stay in this center, the authority is trying to figure out their real needs and intentions. They are entitled to every rights as long as they respect the law. “
The Phnom Penh Municipality appears to believe that we—media, evictees, the public—are unaware of the fact that detained people are generally allowed to make phone-calls. Cell-phones have this remarkable ability to operate through walls. You should try it sometime.
Also, note “the authority is trying to figure out their real needs and intentions.”
The writer of this statement, with that single sentence, has suddenly rendered this supposedly “comforting” missive creepily Orwellian.
In a democratic state—which Cambodia swears up and down it is—the people dictate their own needs and intentions, not an amorphous body of authorities at a detention center.
In a democratic state, peaceful protesters are not forced into a bus, along with their children, and shoved into a “center” which various human rights groups have likened to a prison.
Further: Yeng Virak of the Community Legal Education Center has stated authorities have threatened some of the detainees at Prey Speu into agreeing to be relocated to the Phnom Bat relocation camps, in exchange for their release.
This is nothing less than coercion—and once again, this is not what a democratic state does to its own people.
“On the other hand, we suggest that your judgement should be based on an impartial press, not on the bias and misleading one which does not reflect the press ethics and might lead you to wrong conclusion. If possible, we would welcome you to Phnom Penh to see what is really happening rather than only listening to bias, groundless and meaningless information. Then, you will understand the hardship and challenges the authority is facing.”
The only possible answer to this is: I’m media. I’m in Phnom Penh. I’ve been to Borei Keila, I’ve been to Phnom Bat, I’ve been to the US Embassy. I’m drawing my conclusions from what I’ve seen and heard on a first person basis.
The conclusion I draw from these poorly written and argued municipality missives is this:
The Cambodian authorities are operating under the assumption that both media and evictees are stupid—stupid and lazy. I hope we can prove them wrong.
I visited the Borei Keila relocation sites yesterday, and was truly disturbed by what I saw. The term “relocation site” evokes neutral images, perhaps more akin to FEMA trailers or temporary housing, somewhere not-like-home but at least adequate for basic human needs.
The Borei Keila evictees relocation site at Phnom Bath is not adequate for basic human needs.
100 families were scraping in the dust yesterday at the relocation site, located at the foot of Udong mountain, Cambodia’s post-Angkorian royal capital. The evictees are currently living in tents, in basic shacks, and in hastily-constructed sheds. The sounds of hammering, sawing, and low-budget construction by villagers fills the air, along with the shrieks of children.
The graceful spires of the old empire’s royal temples are clearly visible from the camp.
Only 60 of the 100 families interned here – and interned is the appropriate word – have been “recognized” by the Phan Imex development company as legitimate land recipents.
There was no natural shade nearby, no toilet facilities, and water of dubious quality from a nearby well. A medical center is reputed to be nearby, but no medical presence was evident. Small bags of pills laid on the ground, and human waste was almost everywhere.
A small army of children roamed the facility, wearing dirty and ripped clothing, some with recent and seemingly-untreated wounds. Most of the residents were women with young children, the sick, the mentally ill, and the old. Pregnant women feared especially for the health of their children to be.
A woman with diabetes had not had insulin in days, and was suffering from severe swelling as she sat on a rough wooden pavilion, shaded by a blanket. Human rights NGO Licadho has been allowed to distribute supplies on the scene, but there is only so much they can do.
Sam Rainsy party lawmaker and human rights activist Mu Sochua arrived at the site with a loudspeaker, asking trepidaitus villagers to tell their stories. Many seemed initially reluctant, wary of publicly expressing their grievances, and were shoved by the group to take the stand alone.
“This is the Cambodian way,” our driver and translator commented. “If they talk all together, they aren’t scared.”
The forgotten families stories all were similar. One man had resided in Borei Keila for 13 years, near the home of the commune chief—but the commune chief claimed he’d never seen him before.
A moto taxi driver, the man compared Phan Imex’s action to the Pol Pot era, which he was old enough to remember clearly. The comparison, extreme as it is, seem apt.
This was yet another time in Cambodian history where families were herded away from their homes to desolate scraps of countryside, where inequality was never adequately explained.
“If the village chief says he doesn’t know you, they don’t have to give you houses,” our translator said. “Maybe they paid off the chief.”
Others said the company demanded from $1000 to $3000 dollars for a slot in the eight apartment buildings the Phan Imex company had built for the Borei Keila evictees. The company had promised to build ten buildings, but went back on its deal: 300 families were left in the lurch.
“Our husbands are back in Phnom Penh,” many of the women said, carrying babies and small children with them. There is nowhere for these people to work here at Phnom Bath, a good 60 kilometers from the Borei Keila evictees original homes in the heart of Phnom Penh.
Most were formerly employed in the lowest rungs of Phnom Penh’s economy, subsisting off the scraps of a growing city – trash pickers, metal collecters, and motorcycle taxi drivers. There is nothing for them to do here, in a dusty and desolate field.
The 40 unrecognized families claim to anyone who listens that they have records and papers stating they lived in Borei Keila, but the documents were destroyed along with their homes last Tuesday, leaving them with no time to grab their possessions from the rubble.
Confused children haven’t been to school since the January 3rd evictions, and don’t know when they will return. “I want to go back to school, but I don’t know where it is here,” one ten year old boy said. He used to attend the Chaktomuk High School in downtown Phnom Penh, across the street from Borei Keila.
His story reflects that of many of the children who have been shunted away from their former homes, their school-clothes and books destroyed along with their apartments.
The haves-and-have-nots verbally squared off as Mu Sochua spoke at the site yesterday, as those who were given tiny plots of land by the company (and were, as some suspected, perhaps paid off) traded insults with those who were, in technical terms, merely squatting.
The arbitrary nature of Phan Imex’s handouts has led to division within this small and traumatized group of evictees. Some with money, connections, or the luck to have held onto their documents have been given a plot of land, some rice, and even a bicycle: others from the same community, long-term neighbors, have been given nothing.
The reasons for this gross inequality are unclear to everyone—and that means jealousy is just about inevitable.
Ms Sochua attempted to address this division to the crowd, telling them that they will be stronger if they work together, if they attempt to overlook their inequal treatment by a common enemy. She told them they had a human right to protest, that they shouldn’t beg.
“There are two communities in this community, and it’s ruthless,” a shaken-looking Mu Sochua told us after she addressed the crowd.
Divide-and-conquer tactics seem to have done their dirty work on this desperate group of people.
The 60 families who are not “recognized” by Phan Imex truly have nowhere to go. Protesting has got them nowhere.
The families who have not been provided for by Phan Imex are being swept around the rug. Their only option, once they have been kicked out of their squatters spots at Phnom Bath—which will likely occur soon—will be homelessness.
Their children will be unable to go back to school, and their health will suffer as they attempt to scrape out a living, or find somewhere else to live. Typhoid and malaria are common here: without adequate toilet facilities, or mosquito nets to sleep under, it seems these evictees will be especially vulnerable when the rainy season comes around again.
Phan Imex is perpetuating the dark cycle of poverty in Cambodia, and worst of all, both the government and international entities have done nothing to stop it.
The US Embassy has thus far ignored the legitimate complaints of the Borei Keila evictees who camped out on their doorstep for days, and submitted an official petition—and so have the other Western nations these forgotten families have begged for help.