A day after a group of Battambang land protesters outside Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house in Phnom Penh were forcibly shipped home, provincial authorities said yesterday they would attempt to obtain a social land concession for the angry villagers.
The protesters represented 400 families from Battambang province who farm in Kors Kralor district and have accused an RCAF captain and a military police lieutenant colonel of selling 1,672 hectares of their farmland to an unnamed Chinese-owned company.
Battambang provincial Cabinet chief Pour Prong, who traveled to Phnom Penh on Sunday to send the villagers back to their homes in neighboring Banan district, said provincial authorities were forming a committee to request that the villagers be awarded a social land concession.
Mr Prong claimed that the land in question was protected forestland that by law cannot be privately owned and he denied that it had been sold to a Chinese company.
Mr Prong also said that he had “kept a promise” to send the protesters back to their home village. However, villagers claimed yesterday and Sunday night that they were “dumped” at the Banan district police station, about 30 km from their homes.
Touch Vandy, who attended Sunday’s protest, said yesterday that the villagers were forced to rent a truck to get home.
“We rented a Korean truck and got the money from the people in the village to pay for it,” she said. “They brought us from Phnom Penh and dumped us.” She called the events of Sunday “serious psychological torture and a violation of our demonstration rights.”
Ms Vandy said villagers planned to wait 10 days to see if Battambang authorities act to resolve their dispute, then travel to Phnom Penh to stage another protest.
Yim Mengly, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, confirmed yesterday that the villagers had made their own way home in a truck. He said they traveled to Phnom Penh because they had lost faith in provincial authorities.
“Previously, [provincial authorities] always spoke differently than they acted, which made villagers lose confidence in them, which is why they always keep trying to get to Phnom Penh to protest at the house of Prime Minister Hun Sen,” he said. “It is the Battambang authorities’ mistake.”