Citizen Action in Cambodia

In the annals of brave and determined people, Tep Vanny, 31 year old Cambodian mother of two, will have a special place.  No matter that the terror of the Khmer Rouge genocides were barely over the year of her birth, she is standing up to the authorities for what most reasonable people would consider basic rights: a piece of land to stand on.

[In Cambodia] an economy left in ruins by the years of war and violent revolution in the 1970s and 80s grew at a rate of almost 10% a year from 1998 to 2008. Cheap land, cheap labour and rich natural resources have attracted big inflows of foreign investment, especially from Asian neighbours like China, Vietnam and Thailand. That has ignited a property boom.

For the first time in its history Phnom Penh’s skyline is being pierced by modern high-rise towers, offering new office space and luxury apartments. Land prices are soaring, and developers are constantly seeking out new possibilities for construction.

One area they targeted was the city’s largest lake, Boeng Kak. A company owned by a senator from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, Shukaku, was given a 99-year lease to drain and build on the lake in 2007.

cambodia evictions… The bulldozers moved in to start demolishing the flimsy houses around Boeng Kak lake in 2008. There have been clashes with local residents ever since. Some have been beaten by riot police as they tried to block the developers, other have been arrested and charged. Many of them are women.

One of them, 31 year-old Tep Vanny, has become the leader of the women who are still protesting against their treatment by the company. A passionate and outspoken mother of two, she and her husband were previously evicted from land they lived on in Kampong Speu province near Phnom Penh, and moved to Boeng Kak in 2004.

Last year she was charged with rebellion and illegally occupying land, and sentenced to two and a half years in prison. She was released on appeal after two months.

Tep Vanny (left) protesting evictions

Tep Vanny (left) protesting evictions

“I’ve been detained by the police five times,” she told me in the house next to the drained lake that the women use as a campaign headquarters.

“The last time I was sentenced to jail. This is normal in my country. Before I started this work I thought hard about what I would face, but I knew I could not back down. I had to fight the corrupt officials and the greedy companies which are harming the lives of our people.” [BBC: Head]

Now this should be on the tourist routes in South East Asia….

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