Assorted thoughts on Malacca

Typical Malaccan pedicab.

I like Portuguese settlements, I suppose—not that I have visited them often, but there is something to the concept. They do not have the buttoned-down nature of British colonies, perhaps: there is a sort of wild Catholicism to them, the sort you might see in Spanish and Portuguese streets during a major religious celebration.

Malacca was once a major trading post, controlled first by the Malays, than shifting to the Portuguese,than the Dutch, than to the British—and finally, back to the Malays in the 1950s, after independence.

Trading ports attract all manner of strange people, and Malacca turned into an extremely cosmopolitan sort of place—illustrated by stiff Caucasian mannequins wearing the traditional dress of the area’s ethnic groups at the Sultan’s Palace museum. (Why only the Thai mannequin is grinning like an idiot…well, I don’t have a suitable answer for that).

The pirates and the havoc have gone, although there is a pirate-themed theme park and you will see small children waving around plastic cutlasses. Now, Malacca is a quiet, coastal town, with a rather interesting old district and big apartment and condo buildings sprouting like mushrooms on the edge of the historic area.

Old Malacca was designated a World Heritage Site a few years back, and it is worthy of the term: curving roads set off by ramshackle shophouses, some saved as museums, gutters with unidentifiable water running by them. There are little art galleries and cafes in them now, where you can sit and watch tourists from all over the world puzzle over which semi obscene t-shirt they’d like to buy.

But it is not a crass tourism, and there is not really much of it on the weekends: you can easily wander down a small path into an antiques store piled high with vintage money and carvings from Malaysia’s Hindu era, or find yourself very much alone in some back-alley bit of town.

The food is excellent here. Peranakans are Chinese Malays, and those Nyonya restaurant you see everywhere are well worth trying. (Baba refers to a male Peranakan, and Nyonya to a female, as I learned). There is also excellent Indian food, and Chinese food as well: much like the rest of Malaysia, Malacca is a melting pot. I went out the Portuguese Settlement today: that’s another blog post.

Friendly Malaysians at the tandoori shop.

I was thinking today about Malaysia’s identity. Most Malaysians could probably identify themself as having a heritage of something else – this is rather like the USA.

It is also interesting to contemplate how developed Malaysia is. The taxi drivers liked to discuss this with me, in the rather elegant English that seems to come easily to 60-something men here: two of the taxi drivers I rode with had been to Cambodia, and they hastened to described its poverty, its corruption. They also hastened to compare Malaysia with the rest of the world – and the rest of the world was generally found wanting.

“There is all this fighting in Syria, Muslim on Muslim,” one cabbie mused, as we drove in from the bus station. “I simply don’t understand it. Here in Malaysia, we have peace. We all get along with each other.”

Boy out with his grandmother at the fort in Malacca.

Well, I’m unsure about that -and I really am, my lack of Malaysia-specific knowledge is disturbingly vast – but there is certainly a pleasant lack of tension in the air here, at least to the casual observer. I enjoy watching the shoals of hijab-donning women in colorful costumes mixing with Chinese tourists and slightly head-addled looking Westerners: the Malaysian melting pot, united by tourist attractions and food stuffs flavored with sambal.

ONE FINAL OBSERVATION:

Malaysians are absolutely wild about John Denver. I hear Country Roads multiple times a day in various locales here. Kids play it on the street, taxi drivers play it in their cabs, restaurant owners hum it while they work…what in the name of God is going on here?

Blogfest Asia 2012: Noisy, fractious ASEAN bloggers, ignore at own peril

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.”

Note taken.

Why Are So Many Cambodian Protesters Being Shot These Days? – UN Dispatch

Why Are So Many Cambodian Protesters Being Shot These Days? – UN Dispatch

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.

Read more at UN Dispatch….

Sex Work and Dignity in Cambodia – Not Everyone’s a Victim at That Girly Bar

Sex work is still stigmatized in Cambodia, a largely conservative nation, despite what Street 51s more than healthy hostess bar trade may lead you to believe. A group of sex workers has decided to create a union and ask for the right to work—and most interestingly, they want to let people know that they don’t consider themselves victims, and they are not asking for anybody’s sympathy.

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.

My impressions of these women seem to be backed up by a truly fantastic series on Cambodia’s hostess bars that ran in the Phnom Penh Post last month. The researcher found that a number of these women are looking for foreign boyfriends—and they are also looking for a good time and exposure to people from other countries.

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.

Thais Worry About International Image in Wake of Bangkok Bomb Scare

Thai Bombing Vs Thai Tourist Industry – UN Dispatch

Bangkok, Thailand.

Thailand is circling the wagons after a recent terrorist bomb scare in the heart of Bangkok—and some Thais are questioning if their nation’s relatively laissez-faire approach towards international visitors is the right one.

The swift police response hasn’t been mirrored by the Thai government, however, which appears to be focusing much more on damage-control than it is on solving the problem, or acknowledging serious gaps in Thailand’s security network exist.  Many have piled on Foreign Minister Surapong Tovichakchaikul, who said in a Feb 14 press statement that the attacks “were not acts of terrorism” and the bombers were merely assembling weapons for use in other countries – although he proceeded to request terrorists refrain from using Bangkok as a staging ground for any future violence.

Read more at UN Dispatch….

Human Rights Go From Bad to Worse in Cambodia: UN Dispatch

Borei Keila evictee Art Samnang in hiding.

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.

Read more at UN Dispatch…

Weird Wednesday in Phnom Penh: 4 Villagers Shot, 22 Escape Detention Center

Squalid relocation center at Phnom Bat.

The news cycle got weirder yesterday, as 22 Borei Keila evictees made an escape from an Orwellian “social affairs” center after a visit from Mu Sochua, and 4 protesting villagers near Snoul were shot in cold blood by hired security hands.

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.

Borei Keila kids playing riot police with one another.

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.

Borei Keila evictee at Phnom Bat.

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.

Phnom Penh Municipality Claims Evictees Aren’t Being “Detained” at “Social Affairs Center”

Elderly man at Phnom Bat relocation site for Borei Keila evictees.

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.

Bulldozer at Borei Keila.

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.

The relocation camps provided by Phan Imex.

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.

Borei Keila: Phan Imex Chief Calls Evictees “Greedy Cheaters”

What was left of Borei Keila as of last Friday.

According to Phnom Penh’s English-language papers, 100 Borei Keila families have been denied land at the Ponhea Leu relocation site, after they made the 45-km trek outside the city to the desolate “housing” area.

Why were these families denied? According to Phan Imex development company chief Suy Sophan, 122 of the families who showed up to claim their very own patch of desolate moonscape were “greedy cheaters” who had already been given apartments by the company.

Do I even need to point out the shattering irony of filthy-rich Suy Sophan calling impoverished and homeless villagers whom she personally evicted “greedy cheaters?”

Sophan did, despot-like, agree to distribute 25-kg bags of rice to the peasantry, after they kneeled down to her and begged for food. How big hearted of Ms Sophan! Let’s call in a  Nobel nomination!

I am somewhat disturbed by the Phnom Penh Post’s article’s take on the subject, which devoted most of the article to Suy Sophan’s “benevolence” and much less to the villagers themselves and their problems.

The article did point out that some of the evictees are in-fighting over cheating allegations—and notes that one woman was denied land for her sister since they counted as “one family.”

Those are going to be some crowded-ass “relocation sites” if every single member of one’s nuclear family and their children will be forced into a single speck of land or apartment. (Has anyone taken a look at these 8 apartment complexes Phan Imex has built? I suppose my schedule is open this week….)

Remember: the so-called relocation site at Ponhea Lu in Kandal Province is in fact an amenity free patch of dirt without shelters, toilets, or running water. Various human rights NGOs have denounced the sites as unsuitable for human habitation.

Those lucky enough to be granted a plot are being forced to live in tents in the dirt. Not exactly the apartments Phan Imex promised them.

Phan Imex has publicly announced it will give land, equipment and food to families evicted from what will be a lucrative development site – but as last week demonstrated, this largesse may be long in coming, or may never arrive at all.

After all, Phan Imex went back on its rather enormous promise to build 10 apartment complexes instead of 8. Why should anyone trust them?

I am headed out the relocation site Thursday and will report back with photographs. I have a sneaking suspicion the people I talk to will not have as rosy a view of the relocation site as Suy Sophan does.

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.