A woman sustained serious injuries on Thursday in a brief clash with Chamkarmon district authorities while she and nearly 200 others marched to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet in Phnom Penh to deliver a petition seeking a solution to their land dispute with a private company.
In Thou, a representative of the 197 families from Chi Khor Leu and Chi Khor Krom communes in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district, said they sought Hun Sen’s intervention after protesting in vain for several days at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.
Thou said the ministry had refused to find a compromise for them and even threatened legal action against them.
When Chamkarmon district security guards tried to stop them from marching to the cabinet, he said, the protesters proceeded, prompting the guards to break them by force.
“During the clash, the guards pushed them hard, seriously breaking the ankle of 47-year-old Ung Sok. The guards pushed her down and stepped on her feet. She was sent to a hospital and hasn’t been discharged yet,” he alleged.
Am Sam Ath, the deputy director of monitoring at human rights group Licadho, said Sok also sustained injuries on Wednesday while protesting at the land management ministry.
“If it is not the ministry’s jurisdiction to solve the land dispute, officials should explain to them clearly which institutions they should go to for a solution. They should tell the protesters whether to go to court or back to Koh Kong,” he said.
Heng Chey, another protester, claimed the 197 families had occupied and cultivated the land for a living since 1993. In 2007, he alleged, a private firm owned by tycoon Heng Huy cleared their land, destroyed their crops and threatened to kill anyone who dared to protest.
“We come here not to protest against the government but just to ask relevant authorities to find a solution to our land dispute. We want the authorities to inspect the exact location of the land in question and determine whether we deserve compensation for it,” he said.
Chamkarmon district deputy governor Long Ngeth denied on Thursday that his officers had pushed any protester. He said the officers were just telling the villagers to stop marching and instead take a bus to Hun Sen’s cabinet to avoid traffic congestion.
“We didn’t cause any trouble for them. I just suggested they take a bus to where they wanted to go because we have a bus reserved for them. We begged them and didn’t touch them,” he claimed.
Chi Khor Leu commune chief Ngeth Vuth confirmed on Thursday that the 197 families had been locked in a land dispute with tycoon Heng Huy. He said the villagers had filed complaints with commune and district authorities, who claimed it was beyond their jurisdiction.
The commune chief said the villagers had been living in the area since before 1990, though they had no land titles approved by competent authorities.
Vuth echoed the protesters’ claims that the company started clearing the land in 2007, on which they had relied on for generations. When they protested, he said, the firm claimed it possessed valid land titles.
“The villagers have been protesting for a long time and not just now. They only stopped when they became hopeless for a compromise."
“But when they found that their neighbours had received compensation for their land, they started to protest again. I don’t know how I can help them . . . it’s beyond my capacity,” he said.
The Ministry of Land Management on Monday issued a statement clarifying that a land dispute between a total of 987 families and a sugar company in the province had already been settled. The statement said the 197 pretesting families are not involved in the land dispute.