Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Boeng Tamok Residents Harassed Again By Authorities Amid Existing Court Cases

Prek Pnov district authorities talk with community residents in front of Kong Toeur’s partially-built stall before it was pulled down on December 19, 2023. (Photo supplied)
Prek Pnov district authorities talk with community residents in front of Kong Toeur’s partially-built stall before it was pulled down on December 19, 2023. (Photo supplied)

A Boeng Tamok community member alleged that her rights were trampled on by the Prek Pnov district authorities on Tuesday afternoon when they violently attempted to dismantle her vegetable stall, which is her only source of income.

Vegetable stall owner Kong Toeur, 60, said, on Tuesday morning, just before a clash between the residents and the officers happened, she was told twice by the commune chief to remove her partially-constructed stall. Work on the stall had just begun two days before that. However, she refused to listen to him as she believed the stall was built on her land, which is in front of her house.

About 4pm on Tuesday, some 50 people including the district guard, police, and Prek Pnov district officials arrived and started pulling down the wooden pillars​ that held the stall together and her tables nearby.

Around 100 community members living in the district’s Samrong Tbong village, Samrong commune, immediately came in support of them and tried to stop the authorities. Toeur and the others begged them not to dismantle her vegetable stall and push over the tables, which had foodstuff on them. During the incident, a few residents suffered minor injuries while her sale items were damaged and strewn on the road, with losses amounting to around two million riel. The situation calmed down about two​ hours later.

According to Toeur, the stall was built because her old place did not have a roof, which made it difficult whenever it rained. She sought the help of her neighbors to donate one wooden pillar each to build the stall. She had hoped that once the stall was built, she would be able to start doing business to earn an income to feed her children, her sick father, who is a monk, and a disabled family member. 

“After losing the lake (Tamok Lake), my income disappeared. I borrowed $18,000 from a bank to build a fish hatchery, but now the income from there is gone.

“My earnings have since declined and I have no money to pay the bank, so I tried to make a living through this business and pay the bank. But why did they [district authorities] come and violate my rights?” said Toeur.

Kong Toeur stands in front of her small stall, which sold vegetables and food items, after clashing with the authorities on December 20, 2023. (CamboJA / Phon Sothyroth)

Toeur, who has two court warrants, asked the new Prime Minister to immediately take action and issue land titles to her community as they always vote for his party.

Her daughter, Yorn Kimyeoun, said it broke her heart when she saw her mother, who suffers from high blood pressure, being physically abused by the district authorities over her small vegetable stall. The stall helps to earn an income for her to feed her younger sibling and grandfather.

“I feel very sad to see my mother being abused,” said Kimyeoun, who lives in the same village with her husband. According to Kimyeoun, her mother’s stall is smaller than those belonging to foreigners, who have allegedly settled in Cambodia.

“I was so hurt … in so much pain yesterday. We could not stop shouting. I kept saying ‘Khmers kill Khmers, Khmers do not help Khmers’,” she recounted.

After meeting with the CamboJA reporter, Touer was visited by seven district authorities and policemen on Wednesday afternoon to issue an order for her to dismantle her stall within three days.

The order dated December 20, 2023, was signed by Thim Samarn, Prek Pnov district governor. It said, “… the construction measuring 3.5 meters by six meters with galvanized iron roof, which he/she is building, is a construction without permission from the local authority and no installment permit from the relevant professional unit”.

The order said the stall had “encroached” on forage land on Street 151, which would be expanded in the future. “The district administration instructs you to dismantle all the buildings that are under construction on state public land within three days from the date of this announcement.”

If Toeur failed to abide by the order, the administration would move to dismantle the stall and not be held responsible for any damage or loss to the property.

Thim Samarn could not be reached for comment.

Licadho operation director Am Sam Ath opined that the authorities should try to find a solution to their land issue, rather than ban, block or prevent people from doing business or earning a living, which would cause the dispute to extend.

“So, the authorities should have a solution that is acceptable to all, which is a good solution to improve the lives of the people. If their lives are not secure on the land, they would not go out to do business for fear of being evicted or that their houses might be demolished in their absence. This would impact their livelihood,” said Sam Ath.

In May this year, two Boeng Tamok community members were charged for allegedly assaulting Prek Pnov district authorities. Another 10 residents, which includes Toeur, have received court warrants for “intentional acts of violence and obstruction of public work”.