Armed forces yesterday arrested eight villagers who spray-painted “SOS” on their house roofs and displayed giant photos of US President Barack Obama in the hope of drawing his attention to their impending eviction when he arrives in Phnom Penh on Monday. Leng Vy, 42, whose Thmarkol village house is one of many lining a security fence near Phnom Penh International Airport, said her husband, Un Sokny, was detained yesterday morning. “More than 20 officers including the police, military police and soldiers gathered outside our home and asked who had sprayed this word,” she said. “My husband confessed it was him, and they arrested him and took him to the Por Sen Chey district police station.” It was there the group of six women and two men, which also included Kin Leang, Chray Nim, Khea Sary, Uch Srey Mach, Sem Phal Sokunthy, Yun Sovanna, and Phung Sophea, from Chorm Chau commune, were held for hours before being released without charge last night. The spectre of eviction has haunted residents of more than 160 households since they were issued with notices in July telling them they would have to make way for an extension of the airport’s security fence. Many villagers, who say they have the required land documents allowing them to stay where they are, feared they would be evicted before the ASEAN Summit, which began yesterday. On Wednesday, as the summit approached, villagers tried to take their appeal for help to the sky, but were told by district authorities to remove the message and imagery or face arrest, villager Soun Dirath said yesterday. “When they returned and arrested eight people, I was very frightened and rushed to remove the picture of the US president and scrubbed ‘SOS’ from my roof,” he said. Villager Sok Seyha, 31, who moved from Boeung Kak lake to escape land eviction problems, said he saw police arresting three of the villagers yesterday morning. “We saw the police come and get two or three of them. They dragged them – this is no good for the people of Cambodia. There should be talking, not fighting.” Soldiers in full military attire – and armed with assault rifles – remained stationed at regular intervals along the road leading into the village yesterday afternoon. At about midday, Phal Srey Phors, the 10-year-old daughter of Sopheap, said her parents, who had accepted compensation to leave Borei Keila, had been told before receiving the eviction notice that their new home was safe. “I don’t know why the police arrested my mother here,” she said, holding her baby brother, who was later let inside the police station to be fed.
In the name of “development”, many poor Cambodians are pushed of their lands. Business owners from China have been known to push off entire villages to make factories where most of the profit leaves the countries. The tourist industry is also complicit in this. And logging companies have been pushing indigenous hill tribes off their land and erasing their cultures to get cheap wood.