Phnom Penh residents who wrote "SOS" to Obama on their rooftops arrested by police
Land grab is behind their action. Families living near the airport are affected by planned expansion. Activists succeed in getting them released. Beggars, drug addicts and sex workers are rounded up in camps ahead of ASEAN summit and US president's visit.

Phnom Penh (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Cambodian police arrested eight people Thursday for displaying pictures of President Barack Obama next to the word "SOS" on their roofs ahead of the newly-re-elected US leader much-anticipated visit to the Southeast nation. Demonstrators took this step to warn world public opinion and the US government about the bitter land disputes and paltry compensation they face.

The eight people detained live near Phnom Penh International Airport. They were recently served with eviction notices to make way for the airport's planned expansion, and so demand fair compensation.

The charges against them were not immediately clear. But speedy action by human rights activists secured their release a few hours after police picked them at their home.

"They put Obama's picture on their roofs and painted 'SOS' next to it," said national police spokesman Kirt Chantharith, and were questioned "about their reason for doing this".

Human rights groups complain that the arrests are but the latest example of abuse by the authorities who grab land for the cost of a pittance or less, whilst cracking down on any form of protest.

At least 180 families will be affected by the expansion of the Cambodian capital's airport.

This incident follows a demonstration in front of the gates of the US Embassy in Phnom Penh on Monday by more than 100 people from communities involved in five separate land disputes.

Street protests over land grabs and forced evictions have been a regular feature of Cambodian life for some time, often ending in arrests and injuries.

In recent days, Cambodia has also been rounding up beggars, drug addicts, sex workers and street vendors to "beautify" the capital, to welcome the US president and host the ten-nation ASEAN summit next week.

Many of the detainees were sent to social affairs centres, virtual prisons much criticised by rights campaigners in the past-whilst some street children have been dropped off at local charities.