About 200 people gathered in front of the Siem Reap Provincial Hall yesterday to demand that authorities intervene to remove a fence blocking a road on land allegedly owned by Women’s Affairs Minister Ing Kantha Phavi in Siem Reap town’s Slakram commune.
Slakram resident Ouk Sakhorn, 50, who was among the protesters, said he had frequently used the road between 1990 and 2005. However, he claimed that Kantha Phavi fenced off the road and property in 2005 after buying a plot of land surrounding it.
“The blocked road is about 50 to 60 metres long and people living in two or three villages always used it, but now, those people have to detour by using another road, which is far away,” Sakhorn said, adding that the road’s closure had also caused a lot of congestion.
Since the road’s closure, Sakhorn said, villagers had repeatedly submitted petitions asking that authorities intervene to reopen the road but had been rebuffed. Yesterday’s protest, he said, was triggered by news the land would now be used to build a market.
However, Mondul Bey Village Chief Mai Sokol said neither the land nor the road were ever public property, even though people used it for faster access to schools, markets and a pagoda. The land had belonged to soldiers, he said, who sold it to new owners, who in turn constructed a fence surrounding the entire property.
Sokol said he himself used to use the road before 2005 but had started using a new one once the property was fenced off. “For the protest, I do not know what to tell the villagers, and will let the superiors solve this case; I just make the report for them,” he said.
Slakram Commune Chief Chhorn Kemkhorn said he heard about the protest but was unaware of the details of the dispute. “I was in the meeting for the whole morning, so I heard that there were people protesting over the road blockage and requested [the government] open the road,” Kemkhorn said.
Siem Reap Town Governor Su Platong said that he was unaware of any public roads being closed, but said he would investigate whether the fenced-off road was state property. “We will inspect directly in order to avoid the impact on the people, but in principle, the authorities have no idea about a closed road,” he said.
Neither Kantha Phavi nor the Women’s Affairs Ministry spokesman Phon Puthborey could be reached yesterday.