The year is 1945 and Cambodian men are packed into traditional longboats, ready to race each other in an event that “has been going on for more than 1,000 years” at the annual Water Festival in Phnom Penh.
Insisting on a response from American authorities, more than 100 eviction protesters from Phnom Penh continued to rally outside the U.S. Embassy yesterday and resubmitted a petition asking for President Barack Obama to address their land rights when he visits the country next week.
Since confirmation of Mr. Obama’s trip to Cambodia for the East Asia and Asean summits, protesters from the Boeng Kak, Borei Keila and Thmar Kaul communities, which have either been evicted or are facing eviction, have submitted a total of three petitions and are still waiting for confirmation that their grievances have been conveyed to Ambassador William Todd.
On November 5, the first protest outside the embassy took place, and the protesters submitted a petition. Then, during the second protest on Wednesday, riot police moved in under the cover of darkness and ordered the peaceful protesters to leave. And on Thursday, the protesters returned and submitted another petition.
Outside the embassy yesterday morning, protesters stood holding posters of Mr. Obama and U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.
“Cambodia’s current state does not respect human rights and democracy, because when we protest, we are faced with violence,” said Tep Vanny, a representative for the Boeng Kak community, whose land in central Phnom Penh is now controlled by CPP Senator Lao Meng Khin. “I hope the arrival of President Obama will bring democracy to Cambodia.”
Defiant in their efforts to have their voices heard during next week’s summits, the protesters chanted “We all together love your country and its democracy” as staff from the embassy drove to the plush Raffles Hotel where armed U.S. security personnel and a fleet of black SUVs could be seen preparing for Mr. Obama’s visit.
“We want President Obama to intervene with Prime Minister Hun Sen to solve our problem because we’ve been told to leave our homes without compensation,” said Chray Nim, 34, a representative of 182 families facing eviction in Thmar Kaul village near Phnom Penh International Airport. “We keep submitting the petitions because we are concerned the embassy will not deliver the petitions to Obama.”
Sean McIntosh, spokesman for the U.S. Embassy, confirmed receipt of a petition the protesters filed on November 5, though he said the status of petitions submitted on Thursday and yesterday was unknown because the embassy is closed.
“The Embassy is officially closed today, so I cannot confirm receipt of the petition until tomorrow,” he said in an email. “We will continue to raise human rights issues with the government. We have concerns about human rights in Cambodia, and the government knows that,” he added.
Asked about the strong U.S. presence at the Raffles Hotel, Gareth Walters, director of sales and marketing at the hotel, declined to comment.
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