PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – About a dozen women who stripped down to their underwear were among 100 protesters outside Cambodia's National Assembly on Tuesday demanding land titles they said they were promised after being evicted from their homes.
The protesters said they had been residents of Phnom Penh's Boueng Kak lake area whose land was awarded by the government to a Chinese company to be redeveloped as a satellite city with a hotel, office buildings and luxury housing.
They said the demonstration was the beginning of a week-long protest to pressure the government for the titles, and they would also march to foreign embassies to ask their assistance. Cambodia's government is very reliant on foreign aid.
The dispute, which turned into a major issue when developers suddenly started draining the lake in 2008, is a high-profile example of the series of evictions and land-grabs that have become a volatile social problem, with deadly force sometimes employed and allegations of corrupt deals.
The women said they stripped to get attention for their claim that only some residents were given the land titles that Prime Minister Hun Sen's government promised them, and that the city government failed to give land to about 100 families. Some of the women covered themselves partially with sarongs to preserve their modesty in what is a conservative Buddhist society. The tactic of stripping down has also been used in political protests in neighboring Thailand.
"As women, it was a very shameful to wear only underclothes and sit in a public place like this, but we want everybody to notice our struggle, to see our demand," said 37-year-old Tol Srey Pao, a protest leader. She and several other women also wore chains, which they said symbolized their state of servitude to the government.
About 100 police officers stood by, saying they were prepared to block or arrest the protesters if they tried to march to Hun Sen's house, about 500 meters (yards) away, but the crowd dispersed peacefully in the late afternoon.