More than 300 community representatives embroiled in land disputes in Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces have left Phnom Penh after receiving written pledges from government officials that the authorities will establish a commission to seek redress.
The villagers had been staying at a pagoda in Russey Keo district since arriving in Phnom Penh earlier this week.
Other villagers from Pailin and Kampong Chhnang provinces, who also travelled to Phnom Penh following a speech on Friday when Prime Minister Hun Sen promised to address land disputes in the country, will stay at the pagoda seeking further assurances.
Sak Setha, secretary of state at the Ministry of Interior, and Sar Korng, Battambang’s deputy provincial governor, promised villagers that they would be involved in the resolution process, Battambang community representative Phan Sang said.
“He made promises in writing … that a commission will be created with the participation of us to settle the matter; and he promised to inform us within … seven weeks [of the outcome],” he said. “All of us are going home with little hope, but we have no choice. This time we see there is some pressure. If the [ruling Cambodian People’s Party] does not do it, then the [Cambodia National Rescue Party] will. The CPP wants to win popularity,” he said.
Thirty-nine people, however, say they did not receive written promises from Setha and decided to stay in Phnom Penh.
“The deputy provincial governor coming to meet us and trying to settle the matter did not make a substantial or clear promise,” said Ot Sam Ath, a community representative from Pailin province.
Chan Sophal, Battambang governor, said he would abide by Setha’s promises and seek a resolution for the villagers who headed back to the provinces.
Chan Soveth, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, questioned whether the officials would follow through with their promises of reform.
“We see that the officials are just awaiting orders [from their superiors], so we don’t have much hope that these people will get a positive resolution,” he said.
Also in the capital yesterday, about 100 activists from the Boeung Kak, Borei Keila and Lorpeang communities were forcefully dispersed during a march to the National Assembly.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY PECH SOTHEARY