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Villagers see strength in numbers

Villagers see strength in numbers

Villagers who blocked Highway No 4 last November over a land dispute in Kampong Speu province say more than 300 of them will accompany six representatives summonsed to the provincial court today and tomorrow to ensure they are not jailed.

“We heard a rumour that the prosecutor will arrest us when we arrive at the court, so at least 300 villagers will go along with us,” Seng Oeun, one of those summonsed, said.

Five villagers from Phnom Srouch district, including Seng Oeun, have been summonsed to the court today and a villager from Thpong district has been will appear tomorrow.

The villagers have been accused of failing to comply with a verdict of the Supreme Court awarding the land to an NGO, the Farmers Association.

They say the land the association tried to take was in a different area from where the court said it was.

Villager Chum Srey Noun, 49, was arrested and detained in prison on December 15 when he answered a summons issued by the provincial court.

Villager Rit Sophat said they would demand his release.

“This time, if they do not agree with our request, we will do something bigger than previous times. Authorities will see how strong poor people can be.”

Protesters would demonstrate for two days at the court, then shift to the highway, he said.

Seng Oeun said villagers were being stymied by changes in ownership of the disputed land as well as a disagreement over where the land was located.

Provincial prosecutor Keo Sophea, who signed the court summonses, declined to comment on the issue.  

Ouch Leng, head of the land program at rights group Adhoc, said communities involved in land disputes had lost hope in the government’s ability to resolve them fairly.

They were blocking roads and highways to send a message to Prime Minister Hun Sen, Ouch Leng said.

“If there is no protest, there is no resolution.  I have never seen any resolution go smoothly until there is a protest. There are promised resolutions, but they never come true. People are being cheated.”

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