Villagers protested against land rights NGO Equitable Cambodia and the European Union on Friday for allegedly dividing their communities, before delivering a petition to the Interior Ministry to shut down the organisation.
Equitable Cambodia represents communities nationwide that stand in conflict with companies and the government regarding land rights. But according to villager representative Chey Beurn, one of the villagers from Kampong Speu’s Oral district who protested on Friday, the NGO accused the villagers of “being at the company’s side” when negotiating with the company.
“We used to cooperate with that NGO, but now we don’t want them anymore,” he said.
Beurn, whose community is involved in a land dispute with Phnom Penh Sugar, said the NGO “incited the community to separate” and “made villagers not get along”.
He said they didn’t get any compensation because of the NGO’s activities, leading them to complain to the Interior Ministry about the NGO’s purported “bias” and “irregularities”.
Interior Ministry spokesperson Khieu Sopheak said he didn’t know about the petition.
Another villager, Mao Men, 39, said “that NGO is not honest with us”.
“I didn’t receive any compensation either,” he added.
But EC Director Eang Vuthy said the protesters just briefly stood in front of their office and didn’t submit any letter. “We don’t know their purpose. We didn’t get a specific request or petition, so we don’t really know what they want,” he said.
He said they would stop representing their clients if they officially requested them to do so, but that they were unable to verify whether the protesters were in fact their clients.
Naly Pilorge, deputy director of advocacy at Licadho, said that her organisation’s observers arrived shortly after the protest started, and estimated that there were about 30 protesters.
First Counsellor Genoveva Hernández Uriz, of the EU delegation, which is pushing for conflict resolution, said in an email that they had not received a petition and were waiting for more information. “We are yet to become familiar with all the details about this process,” she said.
The protest comes a few days after the Ministry of Land Management gave its provincial departments in Kampong Speu, Koh Kong and Preah Vihear 30 days to collect all relevant information to solve the land conflicts between communities and sugar companies.
The statement had followed an interministerial meeting with the ministries of commerce, agriculture and environment. However, one of the photographs posted at a state newswire appeared to show Phnom Penh Sugar representative Sim Sitha participating in the meeting.
Phnom Penh Sugar representatives could not be reached yesterday.