Two villagers from Koh Kong province involved in a land dispute with a Chinese company were detained for questioning on Saturday afternoon, halting their plans to file a petition with the Chinese embassy during President Hu Jintao’s visit.
Thirty-three other villagers who had planned to deliver the petition protesting against Tianjin Union Development Group’s project were forced to catch a bus back to their home province, villagers told the Post yesterday.
The dispute between more than 1,100 families and the Chinese company began in 2008, after the government granted the company 36,000 hectares for a resort.
Tep Vannang, 49, a villager from the Botum Sakor district, said she and Chay Peng Hout, 57, were arrested by 10 police about 4:30pm at the bus station near Baktouk High School while seeking accommodation.
The pair were brought to the Phnom Penh municipal police office, where they were questioned until 6pm. “Police told me not to come to protest in Phnom Penh, because I cannot benefit from it,” Tep Vannang said.
“I told police I can benefit, because Prime Minister Hun Sen and the Chinese president will hear my appeal to protect my village and my home.”
Tep Vannang said about 40 villagers from her commune came to Phnom Penh on March 28 to file the petition.
Two days later, a group of police and military police came to the A5 guesthouse in Tuol Kork district to prevent the petition being delivered and to confiscate their documents.
“That day, I went back [to Koh Kong] with the other villagers, but I came back on March 31 to join the ASEAN civil society conference,” Tep Vannang said. “I wanted to speak about our problems to all ASEAN people.”
Chay Peng Hout said police arrested him without reason.
“I have no weapon in my hand, I have only my documents. Why do they suspect I can cause a problem with ASEAN ministers?” he said.
Koh Kong provincial governor Bun Leut said he had already accepted a petition from the villagers but had yet to find a resolution for them.
“The company already has a policy for them, but they did not agree with the company policy, so now they go and protest everywhere.”
Adhoc investigator Chan Soveth said the villagers had the right to find justice and speak out.
“It is a very strong violation of human rights,” he said. “Even though China is a communist country, it respects the rights of villagers. If Cambodia is a democracy, why were the villagers not allowed to speak out?”
To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at firstname.lastname@example.org