Communities Unite Against Companies, Court

More than 1,500 villagers on Tuesday marched from seven districts in Preah Vihear province to the provincial capital to call for action against companies involved in various land disputes, but a clampdown by police meant that only about 120 made it to the protest site, villagers said.

The planned two-day protest drew villagers from across the province who say their complaints against companies that are illegally grabbing their land have been falling on deaf ears, according to Poek Sophorn, an area program coordinator for the group Advocacy and Indigenous People of Ponlok Khmer.

“The villagers traveled to Phnom Penh and submitted petition letters to different government institutions in February, but they never received replies,” Mr. Sophorn said.

Protesters were also calling for the resignation of Long Sitha, a deputy prosecutor at the provincial court, he added, explaining that Mr. Sitha kowtows to the companies, and had suppressed villagers’ grievances and had them arrested.

Pech Poan, 65, from Tbeng Meanchey district’s Pur commune, said he led about 350 villagers from the area toward Preah Vihear City but that authorities blocked the roads about 6 km outside of town, preventing most of them from reaching the provincial government offices, where they had planned to protest.

“We marched from home in the early morning, but about a hundred police, military police and soldiers blocked the roads everywhere and prevented us from joining the protest,” he said.

Around 120 demonstrators reached the provincial hall, Mr. Poan said, where they called on the governor to investigate allegations that companies were encroaching on villagers’ farmland. The crowd then took the protest to the deputy prosecutor’s home, he said.

“We also demanded that [Mr. Sitha] step down from his position because he always summons villagers and accuses them of wrongdoing against the companies,” he said.

Contacted by telephone, Mr. Sitha denied any wrongdoing and said he had dealt properly with every complaint filed with him.

“I did nothing wrong, but those people have a right to protest,” he said.

Provincial military police commander Sao Sokun denied that his officers blocked any roads.

“We deployed our forces to provide safety and protection for those people,” he said.

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