A GROUP of more than 200 demonstrators gathered in front of Wat Botum on Tuesday morning in the hope of delivering a petition bearing the thumbprints of 60,000 villagers affected by land disputes to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
After about two hours, the villagers settled for handing the petition to a representative of the premier’s cabinet before being ushered away by police.
Hor Sam Ath, a representative of the demonstrators, said it was regrettable – but not surprising – that they had not been able to confront Hun Sen directly.
“It would be better if we could explain directly to the prime minister the problems we face as a result of land disputes. Sometimes our cases are buried by officials who do not pass villagers complaints onto him,” he said.
The petition, seen by the Post on Tuesday, quoted speeches dating back to 2004 in which Hun Sen has drawn attention to land-grabbing and other illicit activities.
Nuth Chamreoun, an assistant to Lim Leang Se, the deputy chief of the prime minister’s cabinet, said the villagers – some of whom were holding images of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany – had been told to leave the Wat Botum area because they were an eyesore.
“We could not allow them to stand and hold the prime minister’s photo in a public place,” he said. “It affects the view of Phnom Penh. These people have to understand that it is a city.”
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for the rights group Licadho, said on Tuesday that his organisation had recorded 58 new land disputes affecting about 2,830 families in the first five months of this year. These disputes, he added, have led to 40 arrests and one death.