Thanks to a last-minute substitution, three farmers who claim their land has been stolen met face-to-face with King Norodom Sihanouk over the weekend.
The farmers said the King told them he continues to believe the land issue is very important and he will do all he can “to push the government to feel pity for the people.’’
The audience occurred Saturday, when opposition party leader and National Assembly member Sam Rainsy arrived for a scheduled audience along with his wife, Tioulong Saumura, also a member of the Assembly.
The audience had been arranged for five representatives, but three of them agreed to step aside and allow farmers Tun Ka, Koam Sokhea and Sea Saron to take their places.
Sam Rainsy said the King listened carefully as the farmers made their case. He said the monarch told them he has long worried about the issue and has previously written letters urging its resolution.
The farmers are part of a group of up to several hundred who have camped out in the park across from the National Assembly, in some cases for months. The farmers say officials in various areas have illegally seized their lands; the officials note that since the days when the communists abolished private property, it can be difficult to know who has a legal claim to a parcel.
Meanwhile, the farmers say, they are in limbo. The King has several times sent food and money to the protesters.
Sea Saron, from Poipet in Banteay Meanchey province, said the King promised to write again to Prime Minister Hun Sen and co-Minister of the Interior Sar Kheng.
“It is a great honor to be given an audience by the King,’’ he said.
Tun Ka, from Oddar Meanchey province, said, “I have better hope than before I met him.’’
Sam Rainsy said after the audience that he hoped the direct contact between King and people would help. “We give voice to the voiceless,’’ he said. “It is better to have farmers talk to the King themselves so we would not be accused of inciting [them].
“[When] people have access to the King, [that contact] at least discourages local authorities’’ from taking more land, he said.