Workers at the center of a land dispute between villagers in Kompong Chhnang province and a company owned by the wife of the mines and energy minister on Thursday pressed forward with a campaign against the release of five villagers who were imprisoned over violence and property damage.
The 28 workers arrived in Phnom Penh on Wednesday to counter recent protests by the villagers from the disputed land in Kompong Tralach district calling for the release of the five who were arrested this month and last over a violent clash.
The villagers have since been detained in Kompong Chhnang Provincial Prison on charges of aggravated use of violence and property damage in the violent clash with workers from the KDC International Company on July 17.
Five other villagers have outstanding arrest warrants against them signed on August 11 by Investigating Judge Nhuong Chandy, but have not yet been arrested.
The KDC workers, who were representing the 250 construction workers employed by the firm, on Wednesday submitted a petition against any release to the Justice Ministry, the European Union offices and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house.
On Thursday they continued to the offices of rights group Licadho and Adhoc as well as the National Assembly and Senate, according to Sin Khim, one of six men selected by the KDC International workers to stand as their representative.
“The reason we came to Phnom Penh and filed petitions with these institutions is to request these organizations not intervene for the release of five villagers in prison, since they are the true culprits who were violent and attacked us,” he said.
“Our activities are to seek justice for our workers injured by these people. They have to be held to account for the brutal activities against us while we were working on the site.”
About 10 KDC workers were injured in the clashes on July 17 after the villagers tried to stop them from constructing a wall demarcating the land, which has been in dispute since Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, arrived at the land in 2002 and allegedly seized it.
Mimicking the recent protests by the villagers, the workers on Thursday traveled around Phnom Penh in tuk-tuks covered in photographs of the injuries they say they sustained at the hands of the villagers on July 17.
Their arrival in Phnom Penh on Wednesday came just a day after about 70 villagers from the land dispute had themselves arrived in Phnom Penh to lodge their own petitions with the organizations visited by the KDC workers.
Some of the villagers said on Thursday that the arrival of the workers in Phnom Penh had been organized by the company itself.
“The company owned by this powerful lady has since the beginning staged all kinds of dramas to bring the villagers to prison, and now they have hired these men to perform other dramas,” said Khat Saruon, whose husband, Seang Heng, is among the five in prison.
Licadho technical supervisor Am Sam Ath said he welcomed petitions filed from all people, but said Ms. Saruon’s suspicions about the KDC workers could be accurate.
“If the petition has been created from the will of the workers, it would be good, since this is a democratic environment. But we are concerned they have been used as puppets by a powerful person to gain benefits for the rich,” he said.
“Furthermore, the violent clashes have resulted in both sides being injured but we are unsure as to why the authorities and court officials have just taken actions against one side in the dispute,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
Mr. Khim, the KDC workers’ representative, rejected the suspicions that the workers were put up to the petitioning by KDC.
“The company has not been our backbone in filing these petitions to oppose calls for the release of the villagers,” Mr. Khim said.