Boeung Kak demonstrators left the Royal Palace in Phnom Penh disappointed yesterday after their petition calling for the release of 15 Boeung Kak lake residents locked in Prey Sar prison was not accepted.
About 50 villagers, flanked by supporters, marched to the palace from the National Assembly to deliver the petition, intended for King Norodom Sihanomi.
However, police rather than palace officials awaited their arrival and issued them clear instructions to disperse.
“I would like to ask [demonstrators] to leave five representatives here to submit the petition and others to break up,” deputy chief of Daun Penh district police Lim Hong said.
Yorm Bopha, a Boeung Kak lake resident and spokeswoman, said villagers had been too scared to leave the five representatives, fearing the police would arrest them – like they had the 15 prisoners the demonstrators were trying to free.
“We would like all the villagers who support the submission of the petition to wait [here] and we five will go to present them with the petition,” she said.
“We really pity all the villagers – they have no choice but to come to ask for intervention from the King, but no palace official came to accept their petition,” Neop Ly, program officer at the Housing Rights Task Force, said.
Earlier, the group asked the National Assembly for a response to a request they made last month asking for 12.44 hectares of land at Boeung Kak to be demarcated.
They were told they will receive a response today, Yorm Bopha said.
The demonstrators were in a group of more than 300, some of whom wore animal masks and held banners for World Environment Day as they urged the government to protect the nation’s forests and resources.
Vorn Pov, the president of Independent Democratic Economy Association, one NGO involved, said the government needed to prevent illegal activity in forests.
“We plead the government ... to seriously punish officials who are found in collusion with illegal loggers,” he said.
Members of the King’s cabinet could not be reached for comment yesterday.
To contact the reporter on this story: Khouth Sophak Chakrya at firstname.lastname@example.org