Villagers in Koh Kong Land Dispute Petition PM for Help

About 40 people locked in a long-running land dispute in Koh Kong province on Thursday submitted a petition at Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park asking Prime Minister Hun Sen to prod the Land Management Ministry into resolving their situation.

A planned march to the prime minister’s house in the morning was quickly shut down by more than 20 police officers, as the villagers—many of whom were crying as officers blocked their path—were joined by a handful of evictees from the capital’s Boeng Kak and Borei Keila neighborhoods.

Villagers protesting a land dispute in Koh Kong province gather at Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park on Thursday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Phav Nhoeung, 41, a member of one of the Koh Kong evicted families, said the villagers from the province’s Sre Ambel district had previously submitted a petition in January about their case but had not heard back.

“We don’t want to protest because we wanted to save face for the government officials, but they did not help us,” she said.

The case involves a 782-hectare sugarcane plantation owned by okhna Heng Huy and CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat, who have been accused by villagers and land rights NGOs of various labor abuses and land grabbing since evictions began in 2010.

Holding banners that read “Please, Samdech Techo Hun Sen, find a solution for all of us immediately” and “Stop violence from authorities and company security guards,’ the protesters waited for about an hour under the watchful eye of police.

Eventually, three villagers were allowed to meet with Pal Chandara, chief of the committee in the prime minister’s Cabinet responsible for receiving complaints.

Contacted on Thursday, Mr. Chandara said that his Cabinet had sent the petition letter from January to the Land Management Ministry immediately after receiving it, and the ministry was still working on a solution.

“I have instructed those people to submit a petition letter again with the Cabinet, and we will write a letter to the ministry to remind them to speed up the solution for them,” he said.

A ministry spokesman could not be reached on Thursday.

The villagers planned to submit a petition to the E.U. as well, due to its import of much of Cambodia’s sugar, but had to reschedule today after not informing the delegation office beforehand, according to Ms. Nhoeung.

Ms. Nhoeung is among a group of five families who have unsuccessfully pursued a legal case against the land’s current owner, Heng Huy Agriculture Group, saying their 2010 agreement to cede their land to the company was made under threats from the firm.

The firm’s eponymous owner has threatened to countersue for defamation for accusing him of stealing their land, and the Appeal Court slapped down the villagers’ claim in April.

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