A Chip Mong company representative said there was no threat made against protesters in its luxury Phnom Penh gated community after the residents, who opposed the filling in of a pond near the compound’s golf course, accused it of sending armed guards to remove protest banners from the gates of their mansions.
“It was only to increase protection and security in order to monitor entry, so they can do what they want to do in accordance with their rights,” the representative said in a message late Monday.
But those rights weren’t limitless, the representative said, and for example did not extend to “putting up banners without notification.”
“Basically, they buy a house, they live under the control of the company,” the representative said, adding that the company intended to go ahead with its plan to fill in the pond.
On Monday evening, as many as 30 armed police and military police officers entered the gated community to remove protest signs, according to residents.
They argued the pond that had been marked for infilling gave the compound a relaxing environment.
The Grand Phnom Penh, in Sen Sok district, was itself originally built on a filled-in lake, Boeng Reach Sey, according to research by urban rights NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut.
National Police spokesperson Chhay Kim Khoeun declined to comment on the police presence at the gated community on Monday, saying the matter was too trivial.
“Sorry, but for this small issue you should not ask me,” Kim Khoeun said. “Ask the local authorities why they go tear down their banners — this kind of issue should not be asked to the [national] spokesperson.”
Phnom Penh Municipal Police spokesperson San Sokseyha said he had not received any information about the incident. Sen Sok district governor Mov Manith said he was busy and did not answer questions.
City Hall issued a statement late Monday saying it would not help the protesters, who had submitted a petition to the municipality.
Chip Mong Land directors Leang Khun and Leang Meng held the land title after buying it from the YLP Group, it said.
The YLP Group lists its directors as Mao Malay, Ke Suonsophea, Ke Suonsopheab and Ke Suonsophy on the Commerce Ministry registry. Malay, who also is director of a microfinance company registered under the same company name, is the wife of former Royal Cambodian Armed Forces commander-in-chief Ke Kim Yan, according to reports from the Cambodia Daily.
An intervention would violate the Land Law, the City Hall statement said. “Therefore, the Phnom Penh Municipality does not have sufficient legal basis to intervene to keep [the pond] and prevent [it from being filled in].”
Environment Ministry spokesperson Neth Pheaktra would only say that the ministry had received the petition and would review it.
Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the rich protesters should be applauded for standing up to protect the environment.
“I hope that the rich who intend to protect such ponds will not be accused in the same way as [the youth],” she added, referring to the recent arrests of youth activists participating in street protests. “Raising concerns and suggesting solutions to authorities and stakeholders should not be considered a crime.”
In Channy, Acleda Bank CEO and one of the protesters, said on Tuesday that the group would now end its protest and hold talks with the company.