AROUND 60,000 people have thumbprinted a letter calling on Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene and resolve a rash of land disputes that have put their homes, farms and livelihoods at risk, community representatives said.
Seng Sok Heng, who represents communities affected by land conflicts across the country, said that about 300 representatives of different villages plan to march from Wat Phnom to Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh residence on Tuesday to submit their petition.
“We have submitted a letter of request to the Phnom Penh Municipality seeking permission for the peace rally, but we have not yet received information from them,” he said.
He added that villagers involved in land disputes have also urged Surya Subedi, the UN’s special rapporteur on human rights, to address the issue in talks with government officials this week. Subedi is focusing on the judiciary during his third mission to Cambodia, a 10-day affair that ends Thursday. “Although we know he is focusing only on judicial reform, land disputes are linked with the judicial system,” Seng Sok Heng said.
Chan Soveth, a senior monitor for local rights group Adhoc, said Subedi should make sure that the concerns of villagers affected by land disputes are communicated to the government.
“This issue was raised by Mr Surya Subedi in his previous mission, but still we have not seen any improvement,” he said in a statement last week.
“He has to follow up his recommendations and push the government to solve this issue without delay.”
Residents facing eviction in the capital’s Russey Keo district have also issued appeals for Subedi to intervene in their case. On Friday, villagers delivered a written request to the local office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, saying they were seeking help to forestall their eviction from land in Boeung Chhouk village, which authorities say is owned by a local businesswoman.
“I want Mr Surya to help us while he is on his mission in Cambodia, to talk with the government about land issues and human rights,” Seng Sna, a village representative, told reporters at the village on Friday.
On May 12, a letter signed by Russey Keo district Governor Khlaing Huot ordered 35 families from Boeung Chhouk to relocate within 14 days, saying they are living on a 163-metre-by-60-metre plot of land owned by businesswoman Lao Tong Ngy. But villagers remain confused, since the letter accuses them of living in Tuol Sangke commune’s Tuol Kork village. Sok Khim, chief of Kilometre 6 commune, on Friday said the families live in his commune.
But Russey Keo district Deputy Governor Koub Sles maintained that they live in Tuol Sangke commune, and that there was “a verdict from the court” granting the land to Lao Tong Ngy.
Villagers said UN officials accepted their petition on Friday, but Tuoch Huan, a spokesman for the UN human rights office, said he was not yet aware of the complaint.