Three land activists were briefly detained by the Daun Penh district authority on Monday after they attempted to submit petitions at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in the capital.
The three were among more than 30 protesters from different communities in Phnom Penh and Koh Kong province who gathered at the prime minister’s house in the vicinity of the Independence Monument to seek his intervention in their respective, long-running land disputes.
Sea Naret, a Boeung Kak community activist, Chray Nim, a Thmor Kol community representative – both based in Phnom Penh – and Prep Ratha, a land activist from Koh Kong province, said they were detained for questioning for more than an hour.
The confrontation occurred just two weeks after Hun Sen created a joint committee to receive land dispute-related complaints and petitions at his houses in Phnom Penh and Kandal province’s Takmao city.
Thmor Kol activist Chray Nim said he had lost hope in the committee, which is chaired by Hing Bun Heang, who heads the prime minister’s Bodyguard Unit (BGU).
“The creation of the new committee is not to help solve people’s problems as claimed by the prime minister, but to destroy protesters who are locked in land disputes,” Nim claimed.
Sang Puy, an activist from Koh Kong province, said police should have facilitated the process instead of preventing protesters from delivering their petitions.
“I don’t think the prime minister created this committee to solve problems for people who come to his house because no officers came out to accept our complaints. Officers even arrested people,” she said, adding that the protesters went on to submit their petitions at the UN office following the confrontation.
Puy said the UN office accepted the petitions and promised to seek meetings with relevant authorities to address their problems.
Bun Heang, who is also deputy commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF), could not be reached for comment on Monday.
Kandal provincial governor Mao Phirun, who has been appointed deputy head of the joint committee at Hun Sen’s residence, said he had not received a report yet.
Rights group Adhoc spokesman Soeung Sen Karuna said the police action ran counter to Hun Sen’s call for compromises on land disputes through the committee.
“I don’t know how people will submit their complaints [in the future] if the authorities take action as they did on Monday. Protesters should be allowed to meet the committee to hand in their petitions. It’s the motive behind the establishment of this committee,” he said.