About 100 villagers from eight provinces who are fighting eviction from their land gathered in Phnom Penh on Thursday to present complaints about intimidation to the government.
The villagers, who gathered at the offices of World Vision, had traveled from Ratanakkiri, Mondolkiri, Kompong Cham, Preah Vihear, Oddar Meanchey, Kratie, Kampot and Kompong Chhnang provinces.
The group delivered written requests for help to the Cabinet of Prime Minister Hun Sen, the National Assembly, the Ministry of Agriculture and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, according to Sok Sovanna of the Community Legal Education Center.
“I wanted to come here to protect my land from being grabbed,” said Pert Herp, an ethnic minority woman from Mondolkiri province.
“I need to protect my future descendents. Where will they live? Where will I live?” she continued.
Complaints of intimidation and threatened evictions were also made this week in Phnom Penh, with residents of the community known as Group 78, in Chamkar Mon district’s Tonle Bassac commune, claiming that authorities have ramped up attempts to clear them out.
At least 146 families in Group 78 first started receiving eviction notices from the municipality in 2006 to make way for a municipal road expansion project.
In exchange for leaving, the families were offered compensation in the form of $5,000 and housing in Trapaing Anchanh, located about 20 km from Phnom Penh.
Now, about 80 families remain in the area as they hold out for a better deal. They have been living in the area since the early 1980s, according to research by the Center for Housing Rights and Evictions.
This week, district-, commune- and village-level officials went door-to-door asking villagers to sign compensation agreements, said Ma Sopheap, district deputy governor, who was among the canvassing officials.
As of Thursday, Ma Sopheap said, officials had met with about 15 families, some of whom had agreed to the compensation plans, though he would not specify how many.
“Today I have met only two families, while the other families went to meet their lawyers. I want to help them, but they do not help themselves,” he said.
“If they act like this, the authorities will use new measures to examine whether they are old residents or are newcomers,” he added.
The residents argue that they should receive full market-rate compensation for their land because they have occupied the area long enough to be in compliance with the 2001 Land Law, and it is not state public land, said Kim Voeung, one of the Group 78 area’s residents.
“They said today this is our last chance for compensation before they start clearing the land,” said Sim Pov, a high school teacher and father of three who has owned a house in Group 78 since 1999.
“The people are afraid that they will use force to evict us from our homes,” he said.