Province Confirms Arrests of 30 Airport Protesters, Villagers Speak of Fear and Anger

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Kandal police officers photographed during the standoff with villagers on Sunday, in a photo posted to their Facebook page.
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“Extremism” among 100 protesters led to the use of tear gas and the arrests of 30 individuals, including 20 women, the Kandal provincial administration said in a statement following a Sunday confrontation at Phnom Penh’s new disputed international airport site.

The province accused residents of violence, as villagers said the developer’s security guards were destroying homes with the protection of state security forces.

In a statement issued later Sunday, the provincial administration said that around 10:30 a.m. on Sunday the airport protesters brandished sticks, threw stones, used rubber slingshots, hurled gasoline, insulted officers and burned tires.

The officers were standing guard to maintain security and order at the new Phnom Penh International Airport project in Kandal Stung district’s Boeng Khyang commune, the statement said.

Thirteen officers were injured on Sunday, and officers used tear gas canisters to disperse the protesters, leading to the arrests of 30 individuals, the statement said. Those arrested were brought in for questioning at the Kandal provincial police headquarters, it said.

“The Kandal provincial administration regrets the extremism of the people who committed illegal acts that could lead to the disruption of security and order and damage the interests of the nation. The provincial administration calls on all protesters to end all illegal activities and go back to solving problems peacefully following the principles and policies of the Royal Government to participate in the development of our nation to be more prosperous,” the statement said.

Negotiations over the new airport’s 2,600 hectares, which includes a satellite city and overlaps with existing residents’ land, have been ongoing for years, but the dispute flared up in May when the company brought bulldozers escorted by police officers to destroy residents’ rice fields. Locals have been increasingly defiant as they say they demand compensation in line with market values, not the $8 per square meter determined before the airport project was announced.

Seng Leng, 43, said four of her family members were arrested on Sunday. The villagers were angry at the company’s security forces destroying their property, she said.

She had briefly left from the protest when the violence began, she said.

“They destroyed a window at my house, and removed my stuff. People have been asking for a solution,” Leng said. “People got angry and burned tires, and the security came to put it out. … People threw gasoline and rocks at them.”

“I have never seen this. I’m so scared,” Leng said.

Another woman, who asked not to be named out of fear, said authorities had arrested two widows in their 40s, leaving two children without guardians.

“One of the children came to tell me, ‘I lost my mother,’ and now they don’t dare to stay at their homes. They do not know what to do now,” the woman said. “Villagers do not dare to go outside anymore while the ones who have their land inside the airport are on the run.”

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