A group of Mondolkiri province villagers on Monday afternoon joined perhaps hundreds of other protesters who are inhabiting the park opposite the National Assembly to demand the return of land they say is theirs.
The Phnong ethnic minority villagers who made up a majority of the 28 Sen Monorom district newcomers said a dispute that began in 1999 spiraled out of control this month when 27 of their homes were allegedly burned down by a government official’s bodyguards.
Phnong villager representative Peun Pean said villagers had entered into a verbal agreement with a police official in 1999 to lease 112 hectares for use as a coffee plantation in return for jobs, electricity and water wells. When those promised returns for leasing the land had still not been fulfilled in 2002, the villagers began farming the land again, Peun Pean said.
They built homes on the land in 2005, at which point the official began claiming outright ownership of the land, leading to the brief detention of four people, Peun Pean said. “The dispute led to the arrest of three men plus me,” she said. “Twenty-seven houses were burned down on May 14—that’s why we came to Phnom Penh.”
Pum Chark, 23, said villagers now fear reprisal because the men claiming their land have weapons. Sroch Toy, 45, said she had sold her banana crop to come to the capital because Mondolkiri provincial authorities had failed to resolve the dispute.
Som Theary, 46, said that the ethnic Khmer protesters in the Sen Monorom group were demonstrating because provincial authorities had taken land from seven families in Spean Meanchey commune to build a parking lot.