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Airport fight comes to city

Villagers from Preah Vihear province rest at Samaki Raingsey pagoda
Villagers from Preah Vihear province rest at Samaki Raingsey pagoda yesterday in Phnom Penh after they were prevented from marching to Hun Sen’s house by local authorities. Pha Lina

Airport fight comes to city

Abouy 80 villagers locked in a land dispute in Preah Vihear province found their planned march to the National Assembly blocked by security forces in the capital’s Meanchey district yesterday.

Village representative Meng Chanthorn said that the quashed march, which was ultimately abandoned without the use of violence, was called to seek the intervention of the central government in their dispute. The villagers claim provincial authorities in Preah Vihear have extended a land concession for a new airport without offering adequate compensation.

“The authorities asked us to draw up a joint petition describing the land dispute in Preah Vihear province, so it will be easy for them to solve this case,” Meng said.

The airport plan affects 78 families who were living on 8 hectares of land. The authorities offered only 800 riel per square metre, he claimed.

Accompanying the protesters were 40 ethnic Kuoy villagers from Tbeng Meanchey district and Cherb district, and 100 people from Chhoam Ksan district. All of them are currently staying at the Samaki Raingsey pagoda, which has become something of a haven for villagers travelling to the capital to air their grievances.

Om Mara, Preah Vihear provincial governor, could not be reached for comment yesterday. However, Nut Sorphoan, Preah Vihear town governor, said the land in question had belonged to the Secretariat of Civil Aviation since 1962. Provincial authorities, he claimed, had offered fair compensation, but the villagers had declined the offer.

Heak Chanleang, Meanchey, district deputy governor, said another march would “disturb the public peace”.

“We did not ban them, but Phnom Penh Municipal Hall will not allow them to march one group at a time. I have suggested that they prepare a joint petition and march together at a time so they can march using cars or motorbikes, and our forces will help them,” he said.

Lor Chan, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Preah Vihear province, said the villagers would stop protesting when they had been issued with land certificates.

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