Villagers from Koh Kong province’s Kiri Sakor district have been protesting in the capital this week after their petition over a land dispute with the Chinese Union Development Group (UDG), delivered to the Environment Ministry on May 25, went unanswered.
The villagers returned to the capital on Monday, leaving on Thursday, and were protesting outside the ministry, demanding a solution.
Chay Kimhuoch, 39, from Kiri Sakor’s Phney Meas commune, claimed she bought 26 hectares of land from villagers in 2007, and that the UDG illegally grabbed it the following year.
“I have my documents from the commune authorities to prove it. I have my coconut, cashew and mango trees, which I have not harvested yet,” she said.
Provincial authorities allegedly tried to stop them from travelling to Phnom Penh to protest, but to no avail.
“The authorities blocked us from using National Road 48, so our van turned around. But we found another way to get here. I walked about 20km and used another car to reach Phnom Penh. I thought the authorities would block us again, but we made it,” she said.
Kimhuoch and her fellow protesters, some of whom had previously made trips to the ministry over the dispute, left on Thursday after meeting with Minister Say Sam Al for some 20 minutes. Sam Al pledged to investigate their allegations.
“This is the fourth time [we have come to Phnom Penh]. We have met the minister, and he told us to give him time. So we agreed to leave the ministry."
“We will wait to see what he will do in the next 10 days or so. As it is close to the election, we are worried we might be accused of being rebels,” she said.
Another protester, Leav Tam, who claimed to have owned his land in Koh Kong since the fall of the Khmer Rouge, said he first came to the ministry in 2008, but the dispute has still not been settled.
“I was born there [on his land in Koh Kong], now 7.5 hectares of our land have been taken by the UDG. We have had a dispute with the company since 2008. My parents have lived on the land since 1979."
“It is our legitimate land and the authorities have recognised this. They [UDG] have not developed our land yet, and have left it untouched. But we are unable to get access to it,” he said.
A ministry official who asked to remain anonymous as he was not authorised to speak to the press said it has started looking into the dispute.
“We are now processing the documents and petitions. The villagers have come to follow up on their petition. This morning, we had a meeting with them and Sam Al talked to their representatives. Now they have returned to their province,” he said.