Opposition leader Sam Rainsy said Tuesday that he was forcibly prevented from visiting villagers embroiled in a land dispute in Ratanakkiri province after police and military police blocked off National Road 78A.
Mr. Rainsy is in the middle of a trip to Kratie, Mondolkiri, Ratanakkiri and Stung Treng provinces to meet with villagers involved in land disputes and said that the roadblock was set up on National Road 78A, which he was using to travel to the site of a dispute in O’Chum district.
“Before noon, I wanted to visit a zone where people have just been expelled from their farmland; it was a land concession granted to a foreign company about 30 km from Banlung,” the opposition leader said.
“We saw a truck of armed police block the road and drive trucks full of timber to block the road—they didn’t want us to see the scene of the incident where they expelled and brutalized farmers or how the private company operates in that region—they have many things to hide.”
Last Wednesday, about 400 villagers and authorities clashed over a long-running land dispute between the villagers and Swift Rubber Ltd.
About 200 homes were bulldozed, with Swift Rubber claiming the villagers were illegally occupying land on its economic land concession.
“My colleague asked the military police and was told they received orders not to let us go that way,” Mr. Rainsy said of Tuesday’s roadblock.
“We don’t know who gave them the order.”
Chhay Thy, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that he counted about 50 police officials manning the roadblock.
“We understand that this is a human rights violation of the freedom of movement, because the Constitution states that all Cambodian people have the right to travel where they wish,” Mr. Thy said.
“The authorities should not prevent the CNRP party from visiting poor families that have had a land dispute with a private company.”
Ratanakkiri provincial police chief Ray Rai denied having ordered any police to block the road—a tactic he last week said was illegal, when the villagers involved in the land dispute had blocked the same road.
“We did not order police to put up a barricade to prevent Mr. Sam Rainsy from proceeding, like we have been accused,” Mr. Rai said.
But Banlung City police chief Em Vun confirmed that he had sent some of his police officers to block the road.
“We put up the barricades to prevent his delegation from traveling, because he informed us that he would only be meeting with his supporters at the CNRP headquarters and vendors at Banlung market,” he said.
Mr. Vun said that the delegation was blocked for its own safety.