The first in depth photo project I did in Cambodia was focused on the forced eviction of the Borei Keila community. A year later, the situation barely seems to have changed. The residents of Borei Keila are still waiting on adequate compensation from either the government or the land development corporation, and it doesn’t seem like either entity has made the issue a top priority.
In an attempt to force a resolution to the situation, the residents turned to one of the only weapons at their disposal: public protest.
Marches and rallies have becoming increasingly popular in Phnom Penh, and the ubiquity of smartphone-toting citizen journalists suggests that Cambodians are taking cues from the Arab Spring uprisings.
On October 30th, the residents of Borei Keila met at 8.30 in the morning to began their march. But before they had set out from their community, the police had established the first of many road blocks the day would see.
With this initial obstacle overcome, the protestors marched out of Borei Keila and towards the Peace Palace – the ironically named building which houses the offices of the top government officials.
It only stands to reason that a violent reaction from the officers would bring much needed international attention to the Borei Keila cause , and so for nearly an hour they pushed, jostled, and attempted to generally provoke the police as they shouted their message.
Though the regular police forces acted with relative restraint, when the protestors left the Peace Palace and blocked traffic on Monivong Boulevard near City Hall, more aggressive blue-clad security officers moved into the fray and seized an unidentified man from the crowd. Neither Cambodian nor foreign journalists were able to learn why this man was targeted; rumours circulated that they had actually been after a journalist and had taken the wrong person.
Rumours aside, the man wan dragged inside the walled City Hall compound and allegedly beaten. In response, the protestors rushed the gates and threw food and debris over the fence, but the fate of the man was unclear.
In the face of this violence, the marchers returned to Borei Keila to plan their next move, postponing plans to occupy a building being built by the same land developer responsible for their evictions years before.
The issue of land grabbing and forced evictions in Cambodia is ongoing, and this protest was just one event in what will surely be an ongoing campaign.