Some 200 villagers from Koh Kong province in a longstanding dispute with the Koh Kong Sugar Industry Co Ltd were prevented by the capital’s Daun Penh district authorities from protesting at the home of Prime Minister Hun Sen on Wednesday.
On Monday, the Ministry of Land Management had offered the villagers a two-hectare plot and $3,000 to each of the 317 families involved in the land dispute. But this was rejected as the proposed site was too rocky to cultivate.
District Police Chief Huot Chan Yaran said protesting outside the prime minister’s residence was not permitted.
“We wouldn’t prevent them if they were to go to the Council of Ministers, for instance. But this group insisted on going to the prime minister’s house,” he said.
A protester, Sy Eang, 31, said that the villagers began at the Land Ministry, but they had decided to move on to Hun Sen’s home.
“We snuck off on a small road and reached Independence Monument, but the police followed and blocked us with their motorcycles. We are not scared because we did not do anything wrong."
“We believe that only Prime Minister Hun Sen could give us a quick resolution. We will not go back until we get a satisfactory deal,” she said.
On June 25, the Land Ministry told the villagers that it had set aside 317 two-hectare plots and would hold a lottery to determine which family got which plot.
It also offered $3,000 to each family, but more than 200 villagers returned to Phnom Penh because they were unhappy with the deal, claiming the land, near the Cardamom Mountains, was unsuitable for cultivation.
Instead, they are seeking land inside the rubber plantation owned by Koh Kong Sugar Industry.
Sor Kimson, 53, from Koh Kong’s Dorng Paeng commune in Sre Ambel district, expressed disappointment with the offer.“We are not happy with the new deal offered to us. The land is too hard for us, it is very rocky and is not in the plantation, where our original land was.
“They promise to complete the deal before June 30, but we don’t think it will be finished on time. We cannot accept the deal. We want the $3,000 and two hectares of land but we will not return home unless we are satisfied,” she said.
Orn Pheareak, the deputy provincial governor of Koh Kong, acknowledged that the land is “a bit rocky” and in a forest, but said authorities cannot offer them land inside the plantation.
“How can we take land from the sugar plantation, which is developing very nicely? The company would never agree."
“They need to do a bit of clearing on the land we offered, and it would be fine for harvesting crops. If the rocky land is not acceptable to them, we’ll keep it for those who are skilful and who can use it to harvest rocks to sell,” Pheareak said.
He added that if the villagers reject the deal, they can continue travelling to Phnom Penh to protest. “It’s up to them.”
Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Lot could not be reached for comment.