More than 300 villagers from two districts in Kampong Speu province joined forces yesterday to protest in front of the provincial court over two land disputes, vowing to continue until authorities resolved them and released a mother of seven jailed last month after she had been summonsed to the court over one of the disputes.
Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
Nhem Khim (centre), 52, from Phnom Sruoch district in Kampong Speu province, speaks to reporters yesterday outside the provincial court, where about 300 villagers gathered to protest.
Protesters said the imprisonment of Chum Srey Noun, 49, on December 15 had convinced them to accompany community representatives summonsed to the provincial court yesterday and today to ensure the summonses were not used as a pretext for jailing them. The questioning was, however, postponed after more than 300 villagers showed up.
Many expressed anger that they had not been informed in advance about the postponement, and said they would protest until the disputes were resolved and Chum Srey Noun was freed.
“We came because of a court order, but they postponed without even informing us,” said 52-year-old Nhem Khim. She was among about 150 villagers from Phnom Sruoch district’s Treng Trayoeng commune who had accompanied five representatives summonsed to answer questions yesterday.
“If we did not come they would have issued arrest warrants,” she said.
Their dispute originated in 2006 when 160 hectares of land was granted to a then little- known NGO called the Farmers’ Association. Villagers said it tried to take land in a different location from the area it had been granted the land.
Duong Sibunthol said farmers in the commune were afraid their crops could be destroyed at any time. About 200 villagers from Thpong district’s Omlaing commune accompanied one representative summonsed to answer questions yesterday over a dispute with a private company, and to demand the release of Chum Srey Noun. They said no arrest warrant had been issued for her, just a summons to answer a complaint filed by the owner of the company claiming land villagers say is theirs.
Omlaing commune resident Phal Vannak said they would continue to protest until Chum Srey Noun was freed. “We brought rice pots and rice to cook,” he said. Provincial prosecutor Keo Sophea, who signed the court summons, said he could not question the village representatives yesterday because he had ordered them to appear at the court last week. He said he would ask the investigative judge about the request to free Chum Srey Noun.
Klot Pich, director of provincial court, said he was unaware that villagers had requested her release. Deputy provincial governor Pen Sambo declined to comment.
Ouch Leng, head of the land program at Adhoc, said people had lost hope in the government to resolve land disputes.