6-Month-Old Baby Dies After Outdoor Protest at Assembly

Land protesters camping in front of the National Assembly are mourning the death of a six-month-old boy who died of diarrhea last Tuesday at Kantha Bopha Hospital.

Chan Sok Heng came with his family from Kampot province two weeks ago after a June 7 provincial court ruling stated that 51 families did not have legal right to 60 hectares of land in Samrong com­mune. The boy became sick June 23 after staying out in the open for 10 days, his mother, Om Phanny, said.

Villagers said they lived and farmed on the land from 1979 until 1991, when new commune chief Preab Sarein confiscated the land, saying he needed it to construct a new village for displaced and refugee families.

The village was never built, and in 1995, 10 hectares were sold to the Teng Bunma-owned Thai Boon Rong company, which wanted to extract clay from the land. The remaining 50 hectares were given to the commune chief’s relatives, who have since built a fence around the land, villagers said.

Villagers said they have come to Phnom Penh 13 times since 1995 to appeal to government officials for help. This week, villagers said they lost the court case in part because they are Sam Rainsy Party members. Kampot provincial court official Him Y could not be reached for comment.

Villagers are hoping that government leaders like Prime Min­ister Hun Sen will intervene on their behalf.

In 1998, Hun Sen said he re­ceived a letter from the families and ordered provincial officials to resolve the dispute.

“Investment in the country does not mean that people should be forced to live in the mountains,” the premier said in 1998. “The people must get benefit from the investment.”


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