A day after police beat some of them with batons, villagers involved in a dispute with KDC International again faced resistance yesterday as they marched towards the capital – this time from forces with guns.
About 50 security guards and district police blocked the protesters from Lor Peang village in Kampong Chhnang province as they trekked along National Road 5 in an attempt to make it to the National Assembly to air their grievances.
Following the violence on Tuesday, when protesters were attacked and three arrested as they marched from their homes, about eight villagers fainted when confronted in Russey Keo district, though no one was wounded.
Tense confrontations and heated verbal exchanges took place between protesters – some of whom are members of the Boeung Kak community – and authorities.
The authorities attempted to negotiate with the villagers, who continued their march towards the capital. They were eventually met by government forces with guns and shields at about 3:30pm.
“I don’t have my petition with me – it was lost when they beat us on Tuesday,” said community representative Om Sophy. “We didn’t want to come to Phnom Penh but Chea Kheng … [has] seized our land.”
The villagers have been in a years-long dispute with the company owned by Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem. Families accuse KDC of clearing 145 hectares of their land. Two villagers who were previously arrested remain in prison.
Three opposition lawmakers were also at the scene yesterday, while Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Sam Rainsy used his Facebook page to threaten to summon Sem to parliament.
But District Governor Thuy Sakhorn was more concerned with the presence of Boeung Kak protesters, whom he accused of spurring on the villagers’ protest.
“Why do [they] interfere in other people’s land disputes?” he said.
In a statement, rights group Adhoc accused authorities of “working to serve powerful people in the government”.
KDC representatives could not be reached.