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Tag: protests

Anti-Vietnam Protests in Phnom Penh, Cambodia – Oct 6th

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Protests against a Vietnamese officials statement about the historical ownership of Kampuchea Krom – what is now Southern Vietnam – continued into a third day on Monday, as members of various groups allied against the Vietnamese presence in Cambodia gathered outside the Vietnamese Embassy on Monivong Boulevard.

By my estimation, around 100 people were at the Embassy by 11:00 AM, and I was told that other activists had convened at the French Embassy and at the National Assembly – I’d appreciate it if someone could verify that for me.

Monks pose with an image of Kampuchea Krom hero Son Kuy.

Monks pose with an image of Kampuchea Krom hero Son Kuy.

Many monks had turned out to support the nationalist cause, and they had brought sundry burnable items with them. First to go was a flag, set ablaze to shouts denigrating the “Youn,” a term for the Vietnamese many feel is pejorative. (One of the monks told the Phnom Penh Post that the flag burning, while effectively symbolic, was also rather expensive).

People smiled and laughed as the flag burned, snapping photos with their mobile phones and tablets. The monks added a rather showman-like element to the burnings, posing dramatically for the cameras, and shouting their complaints about the Vietnamese and their spokesman’s statements about Kampuchea Krom into a large white microphone.

Riot police seemed disinterested.

Riot police seemed disinterested.

As the day wore on – punctuated with occasionally bouts of heavy rain – the monks brought out a sheaf of conical hats, meant to represent Vietnam, and proceeded to write upon then destroy them. “This blood is black blood” read the hats, which were alternately sat upon, spat on, and crushed beneath the sandaled, sticker-adorned feet of the activists present.

A young boy shouts his anger at the Vietnamese into a loudspeaker.

A young boy shouts his anger at the Vietnamese into a loudspeaker.

I chatted with a few of the activists who were present there, including 26-year-old aluminum factory worker Rakin Sok, who told me he works in South Korea and recently returned to participate in the protests.  “Cambodia is not a free country – it’s Communist like Iran or China,” he said, noting that the government prioritizes benefits for foreigners (such as the Vietnamese) over those doled out to its own people.

“If we don’t have negotiations, we will burn the Embassy,” 45-year-old retiree Pearun Nuon told me, taking a harder tack that has been stated publicly before by the activists. “All Cambodian people, they don’t like Vietnamese people, you know – they’re thieves, they stole my country, they stole my land.”

Stamping upon a conical hat, a serious insult in Khmer culture.

Stamping upon a conical hat, a serious insult in Khmer culture.

There is, perhaps, some precedent here: in 2003, the Thai Embassy in Cambodia was sacked and partially burned, after a Khmer newspaper claimed that a Thai actress said Angkor Wat historically belonged to Thailand.

Nuon told me that there are “now around 4 million Vietnamese” illegally living in Cambodia, and expressed his desire that the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party take power in the next national election. “I hope some future new government will send them back to their country,” he said.

Chantou, a 29-year-old local government volunteer for the Chankarmon district, claimed that the Vietnamese largely control the ruling Cambodian People’s Party and by proxy, Prime Minister Hun Sen. “Ho Chi Minh always tried to drive away the government of Vietnam, to get Cambodia to belong to Vietnam,” he said.

Monk tending a conical hat bonfire.

Monk tending a conical hat bonfire.

While he believes that the Vietnamese enjoy special privileges, he prefers that the problem be brought to the Hague, rather than violently dealt with. A new government might help accomplish that, he said, albeit with the people’s consent. “Sam Rainsy has lots of promise, but if he doesn’t follow that promise, the people will protest, and Mr Sam Rainsy will stop his powers.”

Eighteen-year-old Em Chhuna told me he’d come to demand an apology from Vietnamese officials, claiming that the government is “under the slavery of the Vietnamese.”

Preparing to stomp on hats.

Preparing to stomp on hats.

“Last year I read a book by William Shawcross,” he said. “Even my King, Hun Sen, and others, they vote for Vietnam. Everything is prepared by Vietnam. I absolutely want Vietnam to leave Cambodia.”

Chhuna lamented that his neighborhood along the Tonle Sap in Phnom Penh was being taken over by the Vietnamese, but said he would be willing to accept a small number of Vietnamese immigrants if they arrived legally.

What does he think of these protest tactics? “It could become a violent demonstration,” he told me.

“Are you OK with violence?” I asked him.

“Maybe,” he said, with a thoughtful look.

Burning paper Vietnamese flags.

Burning paper Vietnamese flags.

 

 

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Anti-Vietnamese Protests in Phnom Penh, Cambodia

Woman pretends a Cambodian flag is a gun at the Vietnamese Embassy.

Woman pretends a Cambodian flag is a gun at the Vietnamese Embassy.

Anti Vietnamese sentiment has been part of Cambodian culture for an exceedingly long time, and has only been on the rise since the hotly contested 2013 elections, in which the opposition CNRP party made animosity towards the Vietnamese, and their supposed colonial desires, a central tenet of its platform.

Spearheaded by Khmer Krom minority groups, anti-Vietnamese Cambodians announced five days of protests at the end of this September, demanding apology from a Vietnamese embassy spokesman for his remarks about the ownership of the Mekong River Delta area.

Anti Vietnam sticker on a car.

Anti Vietnam sticker on a car.

Some context, perhaps, would be useful here. Kampuchea Krom people hail from what is now Southern Vietnam, a region that once was part of the Cambodian Empire prior to the 1600s. The Vietnamese began to settle there and eventually took Prey Nokor – now Saigon – from Cambodian administration. The French partitioned the region to Vietnam in 1949, and it was deemed part of South Vietnam by the 1954 Geneva Accords – a state of affairs that the Kampuchea Krom population has never accepted. anti vietnam kid BW

Distinctly unwisely considering the current political climate, Vietnamese Embassy first counselor Tran Van Thong commented in June that Kampuchea Krom had been part of Vietnam for a “very long time” prior the French hand-over, enraging many Kampuchea Krom people, and Cambodians who believe that Vietnam continues to hold colonial designs on their territory.

Today’s protest was the second of a planned five days of protest against the Vietnamese at the Vietnamese Embassy on Norodom Boulevard in Phnom Penh. A mixed crowd of various ages, genders, and professions – monks to motodops – gathered on Norodom Boulevard and were not allowed to pass past Street 240.

Teacher salaries and anti-Vietnamese sentiment.

Teacher salaries and anti-Vietnamese sentiment.

The group convened at the park near Wat Botum, speaking for a while about the need for teachers to recieve higher salaries. They then proceeded down Sothearos Boulevard, walking all the way to Mao Tse Tung Boulevard and the turn-off to the Vietnamese Embassy. With no evident plans to threaten Hun Sen or government offices, authorities let them pass unhindered, and permitted them to block traffic as they passed.

Protesters advance down Sothearos Boulevard.

Protesters advance down Sothearos Boulevard.

A metal roadblock had been set up at the rather French colonial looking Vietnamese Embassy, blocking direct access to the front. However, only a few police were in evidence, many napping, most looking rather under-stimulated. The authorities have promised to crack down on the protest, per the Phnom Penh Post, but there was rather little evidence of this on display at the Vietnamese Embassy this afternoon.

Butts against Vietnam.

Butts against Vietnam.

As the protest wore on and hundreds of people milled around curiously, someone burned a Vietnamese flag, and others stamped on Vietnamese flags, a sign of profound disrespect in Southeast Asian culture. Someone had made enormous quantities of anti-Vietnamese stickers, and they were being slapped with abandon on trucks, motorbikes, and, quite popularly, people’s asses and ankles. The stickers reminded me of the common 969 Movement stickers one sees constantly in Yangon, stuck on taxi-cabs, food carts, and lamp posts.

Protesters draped anti-Vietnamese posters over the barricades, and some derisively threw discarded boxes of rice and water bottles over them and onto the street. The police leaned on the barricades by the sidewalk and looked on with mild interest, some taking naps on the sidewalk by the embassy interest.

Bored riot police at Wat Botum.

Bored riot police at Wat Botum.

Tellingly, a massive police presence in full riot gear had been assigned to the area near Hun Sen’s House at Independence Monument – indicating that the Cambodian authorities are considerably more concerned about challenges to the ruling party than they are about threats to the Vietnamese.

Where is all this going, and how will Vietnam respond?

anti vietnam kid colors

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Phnom Penh Municipality Defends Beating Up Own Citizens, Could Hire Better Copy-Writer

The Phnom Penh Municipality put up a post Sunday defending last Tuesday’s violent evictions of residents of the Borei Keila slum neighborhood – evictions where 30 villagers and 34 officers were injured in the ensuing fray.

The Municipality claims that “many homes were provided to majority of them, and the small remaining has not accepted those homes at all and yet they demands for extra things.”

Considering that 300 families have been left homeless due to the Phan Imex company’s decision to build only 8 of 10 promised apartment complexes, this is one profoundly weak argument.

Yes, people were mad: they were mad because what was offered to these 300 forgotten was a bleak, empty moonspace of dirt. The residents of Borei Keila were promised alternate housing: they did not expect this to mean a tent pitched in an empty field without electricity or toilets, far from their former homes.

According to the Municipality, a “joined force of the onsite commission”  went to the community to “give information  to people who are not qualified to get homes from the government such as those who built shelters without proper permit or buy units from others, and the commission, through its observation, required those who already received homes but rent to other and demanded for another one to remove their temporary shelters immediately.”

The English is broken, but the Municipality’s release makes it sound like a peaceful group of guys armed with nothing but clip-boards went to Borei Keila to tell a group of stubborn, no good-squatters to please move off private property.

The Municipality is also blatantly accusing the Borei Keila evictees who are still living on the site of renting out their oh-so-lovely government appointed homes to others, or greedily requesting another one of those aforementioned oh-so-lovely government appointed homes.

As someone who has been out to the Borei Keila slum site, I can readily assure you that very few people would live there if they had a shinier, newer option available.

Than there’s the niggling matter of violence. The Municipality makes it sound like aforementioned nice-dudes-with-clipboards were viciously set upon by armed villagers, and had no choice but to defend themselves.

I don’t discount that a villager probably did (quite literally) throw the first stone – and perhaps a couple Molotov cocktails – but the fact that the police responded with rubber bullets, rock, tear gas and riot shields indicates they weren’t exactly passive victims.

Further, the fact that the Municipality took such an armada of equipment with them indicates they fully expected the villagers would not peacefully shrug and pack up their things – belying the statement’s seeming assumption that this explosion of violence was a big surprise.

I watched these kids play a rousing game of Riot Police Against Villagers the other day. Nicely done, Phnom Penh.

30 villagers were injured in the fray, and 34 police. The Municipality makes no mention of the villagers injuries. No mention is made of the 8 villagers arrested in the fray is made.

The arrest (and release) of three soldier members of Hun Sen’s bodyguard unit and recent-returnees from Preah Vihear isn’t mentioned either.

What’s the Municipality’s official version of the violence?

“After that (the first thrown rock) competent forces took appropriate measures to handle the situation with those people and removed settlements which are not qualified as homes set by the Government. Doing so is to ensure the state of law and to do justice to more than a thousand families who have voluntarily accepted homes from the Government in Borey Keila.”

Right – the battle against the evictees was waged to “do justice” to those more than a thousand families who were given slots in the 8 apartment buildings Phan Imex managed to build. This important detail is also, curiously enough, missing from the Municipality’s statement.

Here’s another interesting facet of these anti-eviction protests, both at Boueng Kak and Borei Keila: government authorities seem to believe that political figures, foreigners, and NGOs are provoking the slum-dwellers into action, not the slum-dwellers themselves.

According to the municipality, protesters were “provoked to protest or trigger other actions by some misbehavior propagating from some politicians in order to insert pressure on public authorities only to demonstrate that they deserve the full rights to obtain more homes from the government.”

It is apparantly beyond the comprehension of Phnom Penh city leaders that poor Cambodians could independently become outraged over being booted out of their homes and given little to nothing in return. Do Cambodia’s rich really take such a low view of their poor counterparts?

I’m forced to conclude that they do – that they assume the people of Borei Keila are “too simple” to come up with the concept of protesting and demonstrating public outrage on their own. Sure, government and NGO leaders – some of them foreigners – have assisted Cambodian evictees with protest tactics.

But these protest tactics are self-propagating, as was proved this week outside the US Embassy when Boueng Kak Lake evictee representatives showed up to support the Borei Keila contingent. They fired up the crowd, offered advice and sympathy, and provided instruction on how to fight back against the powers that be.

Most importantly, the Boueng Kak victims implored the residents of Borei Keila not to give up and not to stand down.

From the looks of things, the people of Borei Keila have taken this advice to heart. Protests are planned outside Hun Sen’s house and the Royal Palace. Thus far, only the European Union has committed to taking up the matter with the Cambodian government. We can only hope other nations will follow.

The Municipality’s statement is even more evidence that the city of Phnom Penh and the Cambodian government care little about the poor—and take a very low view of their intelligence.

Refusing to accept that the 300 forgotten families of Borei Keila may have a real grievance, they are instead demonized by their own elected leaders as violent rabble-rousers too spoilt to accept what has generously been given to them.

If this dismissive and demeaning attitude towards Cambodia’s poor is allowed to continue, the future of human rights in the Kingdom looks dark indeed.

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UN Dispatch Latest: Why Victims of Borei Keila Land Grabs are Protesting at US Embassy

Violent clashes and protests over a land-grabbing disputed have taken place in the heart of the Cambodian capital of Phnom Penh this week, after a development company began to bulldoze the slum homes of 300 poor families.

The destruction has prompted a wave of evictee protests at Western embassies, as victims hope to draw world attention to their plight—and perhaps inspire measures like the World Bank’s continuing freeze on loans to Cambodia,  after similar government-backed evictions took place at Boueng Kak Lake in 2010 and 2011.

As bulldozers moved into the downtown slum Tuesday, enraged residents threw stones and Molotov cocktails at police, who fired back with rubber bullets: 30 protesters and 34 police were injured in the fray, while 8 protesters were taken into police custody, where they remain as of Friday.

Read more at UN Dispatch…

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Protesters Sit-In Outside US Embassy for 2nd Day Over Borei Keila Land Grab

Remains of Borei Keila. Police have been posted at all entrances to keep out both journalists and NGO workers. 

Cambodian protesters sat-in outside the US Embassy for a 2nd day today, in a last-ditch attempt to draw international attention to their sudden and whole-sale eviction from their home in the Borei Keila slum. Mostly poor migrants, the protesters sat outside the grass of the Embassy from 8 in the morning until noon, surrounded by a throng of police officers, RCAF, human rights advocates and press.

Evictees were more than eager to share their stories with hovering human rights investigators and journalists, telling stories of their fear, sadness, and anger over the loss of their homes.

One woman described how bulldozers knocked over her home while she was still in it, showing us the scar on her face. She was forced to crawl out of the debris, and made it out just before a coconut tree completely crushed the structure.

“We thought we were dead…we could not get anything out of the house,” she said. “This is all I have—a krama (a Cambodian scarf) and some dirty clothes.”

Many protesters were clutching small bags of possessions, all they had been able to scrounge from their flattened homes. “I would like to beg for help,” she said. “Just give me some money, and I will leave.”

Evictees told NGO representatives and reporters that the Phanimex development company had pulled a bait and switch on them, telling them to submit ownership documents so they could be adequately compensated for their land.

Although they submitted the documents, their homes were crushed anyway—and these 300 families were told that they did not own their land, and were therefore not eligible for compensation.

Woman displays documents proving her title to her Borei Keila home.

The protesters waved parcels of family books, election papers, and medical papers in the faces of anyone who would look.

Protesters told us that some Borei Keila evictees took a company deal that would provide them with another patch of land. Instead, they were driven out on a truck onto a hot and barren spot of earth with nothing on it, and were given 200,000 riel, equivalent to $50. They were told that it would take “maybe a week and a half” for the land to be split into equal parcels.

As evictees had expected to be put up in alternate apartment housing, or at least compensated, this was by no means what they had expected. We were told the company had informed protesters that they would now get nothing since they did not take Phanimex’s exceptionally meager settlement.

Boeng Kak Lake evictee representatives arrived on the scene soon after the Borei Keila contingent arrived. They decided they would lend their own harsh experience and protest know-how to their newly evicted comrades.

Boeng Kak Lake evictee Kun Chantha fires up the crowd. 

Solidarity was the name of the game, as vocal BKL evictee Kun Chantha fired up the crowd, instructing them not to give in, not to surrender, and not to lie down. “If they kill a 1000 of us, there will be 100,000 more,” she shouted. “I want you to go back and and ask the company what else do they want from you.

“Take off our clothes and give them to them. Even offer them your life. If you are naked, you shouldn’t be ashamed. The people who should be ashamed are the government.”

Mu Sochua talks to RCAF officers.

SRP representative and human rights lawyers Mu Sochua was on the scene, as was Licadho chairwoman Kek Galabru also put in appearances, instructing the crowd on protest tactics and engaging in tense discussions with police officers.

Police on the scene seemed rather relaxed, but watched the Boeng Kak Lake evictees with special interest – they knew exactly who they were. An elderly Borei Keila woman verbally harunaged a RCAF officer for laughing about something or another at the protest site.

“Why are you laughing while we are crying?” she shouted, as the officer awkwardly took temporary refuge behind a compatriot.

Police later told the protesters that it was very hot outside, and it would be better if they move to the shade of Wat Phnom for their own good. The protesters were curiously unmoved.

Borei Keila evictees submit a petition to the US Embassy.

A petition was drawn up and the Borei Keila evictees thumbprinted it. After some negotiation, they were allowed to present the petition to the US Embassy. They did not get the audience with the US Ambassador they were hoping for, nor did the US send out any representatives that myself and my Cambodian friend Alex could ID.

The only voices from the US corner were those of security guards telling people to move their motorbikes away from the street directly bordering the Embassy. (One secret police officer had his bike taken away for parking in the exact same spot. His cover was promptly blown as he ran shouting after the truck).

When I left around noon, the protesters planned to submit petitions to the nearby French and British Embassies, hoping to get some sort of international pushback regarding their case.

Unfortunately, many of the Borei Keila evictees will be forced onto the streets, with nowhere else to go and no resources to find alternate housing. And fighting back, as they have been doing, is dangerous.

Last night, a small number of protesters were arrested as they returned to the remains of Borei Keila, unable to find anywhere else to sleep in the city. According to the Phnom Penh Post, one of the eight arrested has been charged with both intentional violence and the obstruction of public officials.

If this is a Cambodian government attempt to clean up the slums and improve the appearance of the city, forcing even more of the urban poor onto the streets is an exceptionally poor tactics.

Will the USA, Britain, France, or other democractic nations with a presence in Cambodia step up and speak on behalf of the Borei Keila evictees?

Evictee tells her story to Licadho chief Kek Galeru.

We all know the World Bank halted funding to Cambodia in part over the Boeng Kak Lake debacle, prompting Prime Minister Hun Sen to make some positive steps towards reimbursing evictees for the land they lost. International pressure, applied properly, can go a long way.

“Only the poor help the poor,” one protester said. “The rich and powerful would never dare to come here.”

Do we as self-proclaimed advocates of world democracy really want to prove this Cambodian woman right?

MUCH thanks to Alex Higgins for providing excellent translation help! Couldn’t have got these quotes otherwise.

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