Co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng on Tuesday ordered five provincial governors to solve land disputes in their provinces and to take home hundreds of villagers camped out in front of the National Assembly to protest land-grabbing.
“When you go back home, please bring them along with you,” Sar Kheng told governors and provincial police officials attending a two-day conference at the Interior Ministry, which began Tuesday.
“If any governor refuses to bring them back they will be invited to come and get them,” Sar Kheng warned. “This does not mean you can abandon them. Find a solution for them,” he said.
At least 609 farmers from Kandal, Kompong Speu, Battambang and Oddar Meanchey province are sleeping across the street from the National Assembly, to protest against officials and businessmen who have allegedly seized their land, Sar Kheng said.
Sar Kheng provided conference participants with details of disputes and numbers of protesters from each of the provinces.
Sar Kheng said he had ordered Interior Ministry Secretary of State Nuth Sa An and Major General Khieu Sopheak to send the protesters home with a viable solution before opposition leader Sam Rainsy’s return from self-imposed exile on Friday. Sam Rainsy visited the protesters on Saturday and said he would work with Prime Minister Hun Sen to find a solution.
Sar Kheng said the governors were responsible for preparing trucks to peacefully transport the protesters back to their home provinces and to discuss the disputed sites. He also said the five governors were responsible for providing the villagers with alternative land if the disputes cannot be solved.
On Tuesday, several of the protesters said they were skeptical of the request to leave the park.
“I do not believe them. It’s cheating,” said Choun Chantha, 43, a protester from Sihanoukville.
She said her father, 72-year-old Chan Chuon, had died from injuries sustained during their violent eviction by police from their Prey Nop home in December.
“[Officials] have cheated several times already,” she said.