Hundreds of farmers led by opposition leader Sam Rainsy marched to the Japanese embassy Thursday, calling on donor countries to demand that the government crack down on land grabbing.
The villagers from four provinces have been camped out in front of the National Assembly, pleading with the government to intervene in their cases. Most of the families claim they have been pushed off their land by powerful local officials, often backed by police and military police.
The protesters said they petitioned Japan because it is the largest donor country to Cambodia. “We beg Prime Minister Keizo Obuchi—who recently visited Cambodia—to use all his influence to alleviate the suffering of Cambodian farmers who have recently and unjustly lost their land,” representatives of the farmers said in a statement.
But Eiji Yamamoto, counselor at the embassy, said Japan would not get involved. “Land issues and land reform is a domestic issue, not a diplomatic issue, and Japan has not committed to the issue as a donor.”
The villagers, protesting land cases in Kompong Thom, Kompong Speu, Banteay Meanchey and Kampot, say they are desperate and have nowhere to turn for help.
Lim An, 50, of Poipet, said he came to protest in Phnom Penh but left his wife at home to resist if RCAF soldiers from a local regiment carry through with their threat to evict them to make way for a five-star hotel complex and casino.
In a statement issued Wednesday, the Sam Rainsy Party said: “Cambodia can enjoy no peace and can achieve no genuine and sustainable development as long as there is no fair distribution of land in this country.”
Late Thursday night, police and military police led by Pok Kosal, deputy chief of Don Penh District, arrived at the park across from the National Assembly and ordered the protesters to leave. After tense conversations with representatives from the local rights group Licadho and Sam Rainsy Party parliamentarians, Pok Kosal agreed to let the protesters stay for the night, but asked them to stay near Wat Botum in the future.
(Reporting by Kevin Doyle, Yuko Maeda, Phann Ana and Pin Sisovann)