Governor Urges Provincial Protesters to Stay Put

With scores of protesters flooding into Phnom Penh from the provinces every few days, Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong on Thursday urged villagers in land disputes to stop seeking intervention at the national level.

“Phnom Penh doesn’t have a mechanism to resolve your issues,” Mr. Socheatvong said, speaking to the media after a ceremony at the Phnom Penh municipal military police headquarters.

“This means that district, commune and provincial officials must resolve your problems, and the national government will send officials to join them there,” he said.

Mr. Socheatvong admitted, however, that subnational officials are failing to effectively mediate land conflicts. “We have noticed that the courts, cadastral committees and administrations in the communes are not resolving disputes…smoothly,” he said.

The recent influx of disgruntled villagers into Phnom Penh—including groups from Battambang and Kompong Chhnang provinces this week alone—is in part due to the example set in May and June by hundreds of villagers from Kratie province who traveled to the capital hoping the national government would help them solve their dispute with a Vietnamese rubber company. They were ultimately awarded a 750-hectare land concession after using Phnom Penh’s Samakki Raingsey pagoda as a base to stage protests around the capital.

More recently, another group from Kratie has also been camping out at Samakki Raingsey pagoda, seeking national-level intervention in their dispute with South Korean-owned Horizon Agriculture Development.

While staying at Samakki Raingsey pagoda, the villagers marched to deliver petitions to the National Assembly and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house on several occasions before returning home earlier this week when provincial officials promised to review their case.

But meetings with officials from the Ministry of Land Management in Kratie on both Tuesday and Wednesday left the villagers frustrated, and they returned to the pagoda in Phnom Penh on Wednesday and Thursday to prepare for a fresh round of protests.

On Wednesday, a delegation led by Vuthy Vannara, president of the Cadastral Committee in the Ministry of Land Management, visited the site of the dispute but refused to engage the villagers, according to Suon Vichheka, a representative of the villagers. “We asked Mr. Vannara to give an explanation about whether they could find solutions for us, but he did not answer our questions,” he said.

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