Representatives of more than 400 families who watched as their homes were burned during an eviction this month in Kratie’s Snuol district were blocked by authorities yesterday as they attempted to take their grievance to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s doorstep.
Though tensions initially ran high, the morning action blocking some 200 demonstrators was largely nonviolent – thanks in part to exhortations from monks from the Samaki Rainsy pagoda, the Meanchey district temple that has offered them shelter since they arrived in the capital nearly two weeks ago.
The protesters, who planned to march a petition from the pagoda to the premier’s house, agreed to back down when a Meanchey district deputy governor accepted their petition and promised a speedy response.
Community representative Nguon Vibol, who along with other villagers had been staying at Samaki Rainsy while waiting to protest their evictions at the hands of Vietnamese rubber firm Bin Pheurk, said he had accepted the deputy governor’s proposal to avoid giving authorities a pretense to arrest demonstrators.
“I still have doubts about getting [what we requested in] the petition. But if there is no settlement for us, we will die here, because [if] we go back, we will still have no land,” he said.
In the petition, the community asks the premier to admonish provincial authorities to return the land where more than 200 homes and over 2,000 hectares of crops were destroyed.
Heak Chan Leang, the official who accepted the petition, promised the evictees he would take the petition to the prime minister’s Cabinet officers.
“Don’t do anything illegal. Marching with banners is not a solution. Please keep calm to avoid violence. If the land belongs to you, you will get it back. We promise, five days more and we will inform you” as to how the petition was received, he said.
The community, in a complaint filed with rights group Adhoc, acknowledged that some families not included in their number had moved into the area after a 2012 government directive instructed land measurement volunteers to set aside land for evictees. But Adhoc senior investigator Chan Soveth said they too deserved compensation as they have nowhere else to live.