Some 200 villagers from Preah Vihear province gathered at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in Phnom Penh on Thursday to deliver a petition seeking a resolution to their long-running land dispute.
They also sought the release of 13 villagers who had been detained since January 19 for allegedly grabbing state land.
Lay Ly Huor, a representative of the 200 villagers, told The Post on Thursday that the land dispute involves around 300 families in Choam Ksan district’s Yeang commune and a private company known as Metrei Pheap.
The villagers claim to have lived in the area bordering Oddar Meanchey province since 2013. “The provincial court accused the detainees of illegally clearing forestland and has also summonsed 25 others villagers,” he said.
Saroeun Sok Khoeun, another villager, tearfully said her 43-year-old husband Phan On and two teenage sons were arrested while farming.
“I asked to see my husband and sons, but they wouldn’t let me see them. Their jewellery was also seized . . . it seemed like a robbery to me. And they hurt my sons who are still minors,” she said.
Kong Chamroeun, an official from the prime minister’s cabinet, said he had received the petition and would forward it to the relevant authorities.
“We are following procedures. Please return home. If I have more information, I’ll inform you,” he told the villagers.
The protesters have also submitted their petitions to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction and the Ministry of Justice. The ministries’ spokespersons declined to comment, saying only that they had received the petition and would follow procedures.
Van Sophat, the land programme coordinator at NGO Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), urged relevant authorities to find a speedy solution for the villagers, whom he said are concerned about more arrests over the land dispute.
“This case should be carefully reviewed. The authorities should resolve it accordingly without detaining anyone. Using the court system to make arrests is akin to intimidation,” he said.
Provincial prosecutor Ty Sovinthal told The Post on Thursday that legal action was taken because some of the villagers had destroyed natural resources at the province’s Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary. He called on relevant parties and the press to make a field visit to the disputed land.
“Regarding the forestry crime at the wildlife sanctuary, you will find out if you go there. Don’t just believe whatever they told you. Please come and see the situation and you will realise how serious the destruction of natural resources is,” he said.
He added that the case of the 13 villagers has been handled in accordance with legal procedures.
Ly Huor, the villagers’ representative, said the district authority has in the past surveyed land for around 100 families in the area but that nothing has come of the measurements that were taken.
“The authority created a new committee to seek a solution to the land dispute and measured plots to be ceded to some 77 families who resided in the area. But due to heavy rain, the committee has postponed its work until the end of the harvest season,” he said.