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Land dispute hits the capital

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Chi Kraeng district residents flee violent land dispute to petition the National Assembly to intervene; opposition party pledges to take up their cause.

Photo by:
TRACEY SHELTON

Chi Kraeng villagers in Phnom Penh outside the National Assembly on Monday.  

AROUND 100 villagers from Siem Reap gathered Monday in front of the National Assembly to petition for help over a land dispute in Chi Kraeng district that erupted into violence March 22 when four villagers were shot and injured by authorities.

The clash followed a dispute between villagers from neighbouring communes over 92 hectares of farmland. A video of the incident, which Licadho says it received from villagers,  reportedly shows the deputy district police chief firing a shot into the air. Immediately afterwards, a commune policeman opened fire on villagers, shooting at least two with an AK-47. Other police or military police then started shooting, the NGO said.

The villagers, who said they fear for their safety, were met by Sam Rainsy and the opposition MP for Siem Reap, Ke Sovannroth.

Sam Rainsy pledged to take up their cause, saying: "This is a severe human rights violation.... I will push forward your case to the president of the Human Rights Committee to work on it," he told the villagers.

A representative of the group, Thoang Sareith, told the Post the villagers would remain until the National Assembly resolved their case and guaranteed their safety. Villagers have previously reported receiving threats on their mobile phones, and Thoang Sareith said they were now afraid to return home.

Am Sam Ath, a monitor for the Cambodian human rights NGO Licadho, said the land dispute between the two communes had been ongoing since 2004, but resolution efforts by the authorities had been unsuccessful. He said that provincial Governor Sou Phirin had promised on March 24 he would resolve the dispute fairly with the participation of civil society groups. That had not happened, he added.

Am Sam Ath said the Constitution gives citizens the right to petition the National Assembly for assistance if they lack confidence in their local authorities to solve the problem.

Ke Sovannroth told the villagers that she had written a letter to the Interior Ministry and the National Assembly requesting an investigation, but had not yet received a response.

The Post was unable to contact Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak for comment, but he has previously said that the ministry was investigating the incident, and that police would be held to account if they were found to have acted unlawfully.

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