A week after Prime Minister Hun Sen publicly chided provincial officials for allegedly failing to notify him about land disputes, hundreds of villagers converged on the capital yesterday demanding their conflicts be resolved.
About 300 villagers from Banteay Meanchey, Battambang and Pailin travelled to Phnom Penh with the intention of submitting petitions directly to the premier, who last week blamed middlemen at the provincial level for keeping such information from him. Police directed the crowd away from Hun Sen’s house, guiding them to a pagoda in Russey Keo district.
“If local authorities can’t solve land disputes, more and more people are going to travel to Phnom Penh,” said Chan Sovet, senior investigator with human rights group Adhoc. “The provincial [officials] cannot solve their problems.”
While gathered at the pagoda yesterday, Cambodia National Rescue Party leader Sam Rainsy, his deputy, Kem Sokha, and Ministry of Interior Secretary of State Sak Setha spoke to the group. All said the disputes would be resolved.
“We are over the moon that we were paid so much attention,” said Ouk Sam Ath of Pailin province, who added Setha apologised that the villagers had to travel all the way to Phnom Penh, rather than officials visiting the provinces. “But we are still worried sick about whether they will keep their word.”
Separately, about 30 people gathered outside the Asian Development Bank’s office, demanding answers about the railway project, which will cause more evictions as it moves on to its second stage.
Long Chandy, a community representative, said the ADB has failed to detail what would become of people living along the railway when the buffer grows from its current 3.5 metres to 10 metres.
“We who have houses in the area will soon be evicted,” Chandy said. “So we want to know details about this plan.”
More than 80 supporters of four representatives of villagers displaced by a special economic zone in Koh Kong rallied outside the provincial court.
The four were questioned in court after staff from the SEZ – owned by tycoon Ly Yong Phat – accused them of property destruction and intentional violence. All four were later released.