Apartment Complex Tear-Downs at Borei Keila Land Grab Site in Phnom Penh

My friend Alex, who lives very close to Borei Keila, texted me around 5:00 PM today. He told me construction workers had torn down one of the old and emptied apartment buildings at the Borei Keila land-grab site, and that they were in the process of tearing down another.

Police presence was heavy and aggressive when I tried to take shots at the site on Thursday, but Alex told me that the guards had left—perhaps they figured journalists would take the day off on Saturday—and I could easily get inside. He was right.

Borei Keila Evictees Protest Egregious Land Grab Outside US Embassy

Edited to add: My excellent Cambodian source says protesters were arrested late tonight (the 4th) after returning to the remains of Borei Keila. No word yet on how many were arrested. Waiting until protesters were out of range of the US Embassy and after most press activity had knocked off for the night seems to be the tactic of choice.

Protesters evicted from the Borei Keila community yesterday staged a protest in front of the US Embassy here in Phnom Penh tonight. Hoping to attract US attention to their plight, around 70 protesters, joined by activist and lawyer Mu Sochua, staged a sit-in outside the Embassy, hoping to set up for the night on the grassy median outside. It wasn’t like they had anywhere else to go.

Around 300 families—most poor migrant workers—were not provided for by the Phanimex development company which purchased the land Borei Keila sat on until Tuesday afternoon. Cops moved in Tuesday morning and were met with intense resistance – including stones, Molotov cocktails, and fists – by residents.

Allegedly because residents were acting out, police moved in and bulldozed every home in Borei Keila, without giving anybody a chance to get their things out of their homes. 300 families suddenly found themselves without anywhere to go, and decided to make for the US Embassy as a last-ditch effort to draw some attention to their cause.

I met incensed women this evening, claiming that their and their friends posessions had been crushed by police bulldozers.

“I think they are trying to kill us with starvation,” one woman said, referring to what appear to be government efforts to keep NGOs with food assistance out of the Borei Keila area.

The same woman noted that the company had asked her for $3,000 to be moved into the supposedly “free” company-provided housing. “I have lived in Borei Keila since I was young, and now I am old,” she said. “The government says if you live on land for long enough it belongs to you, but they have evicted me.”

Over 100 rather nervy cops in full riot gear appeared at the protest, and soon enough a loudspeaker truck with a bunch of young men in blue pulled up. Everyone was ordered out by the  chief of Daun Penh district, who threatened to use administrative action if his orders weren’t heeded.

After 8 arrests of Borei Keila residents yesterday, villagers decided not to stick around and moved off, carrying small children, mats, and whatever possessions they had managed to scrounge from their former homes. They moved off down Russian Boulevard, followed by police for a short period.

They said they were heading back to Borei Keila, although the walled-off site is now nothing but an unwelcoming field of hacked-up tile and dirt, guarded by police officers.

Where are they going? Staying with friends, sleeping outside, wedging themselves into the greater mass of Phnom Penh. We don’t really know at this point.

They are yet more victims of the impunity with which land-grabbing Cambodian companies are allowed to operate. It doesn’t matter how long you’ve lived on the land, or if you have title to it. A major developer can still take it right out from under your feet.

Cambodia, this is not the way to attract foreign investment.