Municipal and military police on Wednesday blocked a group of about 100 displaced farmers from Kratie province who were attempting to deliver a petition to the Cambodian Red Cross’ Phnom Penh headquarters calling on the group to help them in their land dispute with a Vietnamese rubber firm.
About 50 police and military police officers, wielding riot shields and electric batons, met the group of villagers at about 8:30 a.m. near the Samakki Raingsey pagoda, where they have been temporarily taking shelter, and ordered them to return to the pagoda.
“We just wanted to submit a petition letter with the Cambodian Red Cross (CRC) to ask for help, but about 50 police and military police prevented us from going and they pushed us back to the nearby pagoda,” said Chea Sru, 45, a member of the evicted community from Snuol district’s Khyoem commune.
Since being evicted on May 2 by Vietnamese firm Binh Phuoc 2, the group of farmers, whose cause has been championed by opposition leader Sam Rainsy, has launched a campaign in Phnom Penh attempting to deliver petitions to various government bodies and embassies to help resolve their land dispute.
Phnom Penh deputy governor Khuong Sreng claimed that the group has ulterior motivations, and said he wants them out of the capital city.
“We are searching for the truth because those people did not come from Kratie province only, but they came from everywhere to serve the interests of a political party,” he said, in an apparent reference to the opposition CNRP.
Mr. Sreng said he would meet with Kratie and Kompong Cham provincial authorities today to decide what to do with the group.
“We will not allow these people to stay at the pagodas and they should return home,” he added.
A representative of the CRC, which has been criticized for serving the political interests of the ruling CPP, said the organization had no duty to help the villagers.
“They came to Red Cross to complain about their land situation—do you think that is the duty of the Red Cross?” asked Uy Sam Ath, CRC’s director of disaster management.
Thim Narin, Kratie provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that the situation of the displaced villagers was very much within the CRC’s purview.
“I think the petition letter demanding Cambodian Red Cross to help them is right because they are now facing difficulties and are homeless,” she said.