At least 10 people, one a 4-year-old child, were injured in a clash in the capital yesterday when security forces used electric batons to disperse about 300 villagers from Kratie province embroiled in a land dispute with a South Korean agribusiness.
The villagers, from Kratie’s Snuol district, set out on a march at about 7am from the Samaki Rainsy pagoda, where they have been living for the past month, to the National Assembly, where they intended to submit a petition to lawmakers.
Out Seanghai, a villager taking part in the march, called on lawmakers to accept the petition. “Please, lawmakers, help us solve this land dispute, which has been going on since the provincial authorities grabbed our land,” she said.
After waiting for almost two hours, three opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmakers came out to receive the petition. No ruling Cambodian People’s Party members followed suit.
The villagers then headed towards Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house, but were met by more than 100 mixed security forces before they reached the mansion on Suramarit Boulevard.
The security forces used batons, shields and electric batons to disperse the crowd, injuring a number of the villagers, and a 4-year-old boy was among those shocked.
Suon Vicheka, a villager wearing a CPP T-shirt, said he was disappointed at the use of force against peaceful protesters.
“The villagers just came to request intervention and land certificates. We didn’t want anything else, and nothing has happened since our land was measured in 2012,” he said.
Phnom Penh Deputy Governor Khuong Sreng defended the attack.
“The protest is the people’s right, but it should not affect other people or block the road like this. That is why this morning’s events happened,” he said.
The villagers claim they started living on the disputed land in Snuol commune in 2000, before Horizon Agriculture Development Company moved in to set up a cassava and pepper plantation.
A separate group of protesters from the same area, who came to Phnom Penh in May to protest against a rubber company, accepted a 750-hectare social land concession after staging several protests.
CNRP whip Son Chhay said yesterday that he would seek a resolution to the villagers’ dispute by forwarding their claims to the National Assembly’s permanent committees for discussion.