Sam Rainsy Leads March, Defies Ban
Defying a government ban, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy on Tuesday marched a group of about 800 farmers from the Olympic Stadium to the European Union offices to highlight the plight of land-grab victims.
Sam Rainsy and other opposition lawmakers delivered a letter from the farmers requesting the EU—a major donor—to pressure the Cambodian government to implement major land reform.
“We beg the European Parliament and the European Commission in Brussels to pay more attention to the suffering of a growing number of Cambodian farmers who are victims of land grabbing,” said Sam Rainsy, reading from the letter.
The letter urged the EU to use its political and financial leverage to push for land reform in Cambodia and to place land reform at the top of any discussion with the government.
“We are confident that our European friends share our view that Cambodia can enjoy no peace and can achieve no genuine and sustainable economic development as long as there is no fair distribution of land in this country,” Sam Rainsy said in front of the EU office gates near Independence Monument.
When the gates did not immediately open to allow three farmer representatives to deliver the letter in person, Sam Rainsy shouted that the EU staff had nothing to fear from the demonstrators.
Joseph Piazza d’Olmo, coordinator of the EU office, emerged from the building to receive the letter. He said his office could receive the letter but cannot give a reply to the farmers because the Phnom Penh office deals only with technical issues related to EU projects in Cambodia. But he told Sam Rainsy that he would immediately pass on the letter to the EU delegation in Bangkok.
Carrying banners, placards and small children, the demonstrators from 10 provinces went on to the National Assembly where representatives of land-grab victims held a demonstration calling on the government to investigate cases where land has been taken unlawfully.
City authorities had told Sam Rainsy Party members that they could gather in Olympic Stadium, but that they were not to march to the National Assembly. But police presence was small Tuesday, and there were no altercations with protesters.
Fifty-year-old Thin Chen said he represented 68 families from Damnak Chang’aur district in Kep town who were forced off their land by military police and Kep municipal authorities.
“[Excellencies] please open your eyes to see that we are your own people. Why do you keep quiet? You are the government,” said Thin Chen by loudspeaker in front of the National Assembly.
Tep Chanvesna, representing 84 families from Banteay Meanchey province, said he joined the demonstration to protest the arrest of 20 villagers who he claimed were held by military police last week when it was discovered they were traveling to Phnom Penh to complain about land grabbing.
Government spokesman Khieu Kanharith noted Tuesday the government has already put in place a committee to resolve land disputes and many have been resolved already.
If people’s land is lost illegally to powerful people, the government will investigate and find justice, Khieu Kanharith said. However, if land is lost legally for development purposes or to people who possess legal land titles the government cannot act.
“Otherwise land reform is like what the Khmer Rouge did…. This kind of egalitarianism would be impossible,” he said.