More than 150 people representing 308 families recently evicted in a land dispute involving a Kampot province land concession assembled outside the Land Management Ministry in Phnom Penh on Wednesday in a last-ditch effort to return to their land.
Sok Sreymeas, 49, who was evicted from the disputed 10,000-hectare plot of land in Chhuk district’s Techo Aphivat commune, said the group had traveled to the capital to submit a petition to the ministry seeking an intervention from the land minister and Prime Minister Hun Sen in the protracted dispute between villagers and First Biotech Investment (Cambodia).
“We want the Land Ministry to help all of us get our farmland back. We don’t have shelter because our homes were destroyed by the company’s security guards,” she said.
Earlier this month, villagers clashed with company security guards and military police when security officials razed more than 40 homes after First Biotech filed a complaint of land encroachment with provincial authorities. In the melee that ensued, three cars were destroyed, one security guard was badly beaten and three villagers were arrested.
“We destroyed the cars and beat the soldiers and security guards because they brought six containers of gasoline to burn our houses,” 63-year-old Chheang Nhor said on Wednesday. At the protest on Wednesday morning, Ms. Sreymeas said five of the company’s security guards had been sent to Phnom Penh to intimidate them and threatened to kill anyone who returned to the economic land concession. By mid-morning, a ministry administration official had received the group’s petition and promised to deliver it to Land Minister Chea Sophara.
“I will send this petition letter to His Excellency [Mr. Sophara] to find a solution for the people,” Ul Sok Yous said. However, Mr. Sok Yous said the Land Management Ministry could not offer help to the three Kampot men jailed for destruction of property in the August 11 row, saying that it was a matter for the courts to decide.
Chan Sothea, a board member of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce who chairs First Biotech, said on Wednesday she was unaware of the villagers’ demonstration at the Land Management Ministry and denied allegations of intimidation against the company.
“I did not send any workers or security guards to follow or threaten to kill those people at the protest in Phnom Penh. This information is not true,” she said, adding that all of the company’s security staff remained in Kampot and the villagers had likely fabricated the story. “Those people came everywhere and they stayed on my land. When I asked them to leave, they beat a security guard to near death,” Ms. Sothea said.