Cambodian police use teargas to evict slum dwellers

PHNOM PENH, Jan 24 (Reuters) - Cambodian police fired teargas and eight people were injured on Saturday during the forced eviction of 80 families from a Phnom Penh slum, rights activists and police said. At least two of the eight slum dwellers were seriously hurt in clashes with clean-up crews hired to tear down the dwellings on government land recently sold to a private company. Police cordoned off roads around the area near the Russian embassy, as the 300 workers backed by bulldozers and cranes cleared away the decade-old community. Rights activist Am Sam Ath and witnesses said eight people were injured during the forced eviction, including two seriously hurt and sent to hospital.

Witnesses said an old woman and a boy were hit by a bulldozer, while others were hurt in clashes with the workers armed with clubs and stones. Police denied using excessive force to evict the group, who had waged a 3-year battle against their eviction.

"We did not use violence against them, but tear gas to disperse the people who resisted," Phnom Penh police chief G. Touch Naruth told Reuters.

The eviction came after the squatters rejected the company's offer of $20,000 per family in compensation for the prime 2-hectare (4.9 acres) plot of land facing the Mekong River.

Land disputes are a hot issue in Cambodia, where garment factories and hotels have sprung up to expand the major textile and tourist industries. Last week, police opened fire on farmers protesting against a land grab south of Phnom Penh, wounding two of them, rights activists said. (Reporting by Ek Madra; Editing by Darren Schuettler and Alex Richardson)