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Protesters, guards clash in a bid to reclaim farmland

Security guards hold hands to block Koh Kong community members protesting outside the Land Management Ministry in Phnom Penh.
Security guards hold hands to block Koh Kong community members protesting outside the Land Management Ministry in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Protesters, guards clash in a bid to reclaim farmland

About 100 protesters clashed with Chamkarmon district security forces after blocking the street in front of the Land Management Ministry yesterday in an attempt to get the attention of its top official.

The protesters, from four villages in Koh Kong province’s Dang Paeng and Chikor Krom communes, have been locked in a long-running land dispute with the owners of Koh Kong Sugar Industry Company.

Many of them have been living in Phnom Penh’s Samaki Rainsy pagoda for months as they petition the government for help reclaiming about 60 hectares of farmland.

A scuffle ensued after security guards began to push protesters – some of them crying, nearly all of them women – off of the road yesterday morning.

Sre Ambel district land dispute community representative Num Vannary said eight protesters sustained minor injuries.

A woman cries as Koh Kong community members gather yesterday outside Land Ministry to protest against a sugar company for land grabbing
A woman cries as Koh Kong community members gather yesterday outside Land Ministry to protest against a sugar company for land grabbing. Pha Lina

Villagers were unable to meet with Land Management Minister Chea Sophara, but had an audience with the ministry’s administrative director and spokesman, Seng Lot, who promised them he would solve the dispute but said he could not give them a timeline.

“We will not leave this problem behind, but we have not made a promise of when exactly the problem will be solved,” Lot said. Vannary said she felt “hopeless” after the meeting but said she would continue to demonstrate.

“I am no longer afraid of death,” Vannary said. “If we die here, it is also good since we have lost all of the land already.”

Phav Nueng, a protester, said villagers had lost their trust in district and provincial authorities and came to Phnom Penh to seek intervention.

“I have had no land and no job for about 10 years now after the two companies grabbed my land,” Nueng said. “Farmers like us depend on the land. What can we do if they grabbed all of our land and the state does not create jobs for us?”

Koh Kong community members gather yesterday outside Land Ministry to protest against a sugar company for land grabbing
Koh Kong community members gather yesterday outside Land Ministry to protest against a sugar company for land grabbing. Pha Lina

Protesters said they were later stopped from marching to Hun Sen’s house. Chamkarmon District Deputy Governor Koe Samnang said that his main goal was to maintain security and avoid traffic congestion.

“I told them not to block the road since it affects other road users,” Samnang said. “They did not listen. We, the authorities, do not want problems to happen to other people.”

Soeng Senkarona, a senior investigator for rights group Adhoc, criticised authorities for allowing the dispute to drag on.

“The authorities should have a peaceful solution,” Senkarona said. “I think that they do not want to trouble the authorities, but authorities should find a proper solution for them.”

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