More than 170 Koh Kong villagers embroiled in a land dispute with the agricultural firm Heng Huy Company protested on Friday and blocked off National Road 48 in Sre Amble district, though the protestors failed to stop a fleet of bulldozers, protestors and rights workers said.
Protestors blocked the road, which leads into Koh Kong provincial town, for five hours from 7:30 am, causing a traffic jam, before armed forces including police, military police and company workers forcibly pushed protestors back, said Ouch Leng, monitor for local rights group Adhoc.
“Soon after the breaking of the blockade, the company workers started to clear the disputed land with bulldozers,” he said, adding that 25 villagers involved in a separate land dispute in Kompong Speu province with CPP Senator Ly Yong Phat’s Phnom Penh Sugar Company were also present.
Nobody was reported injured though the 25 villagers from Kompong Speu province were later questioned by military police in Sre Ambel district, Mr Leng added. District police chief Mat Ty could not be reached on the matter.
The land dispute, which according to rights groups dates back to 2007, flared up a week ago as around 40 Chi Khor Krom commune families confronted Heng Huy Company bulldozers after they cleared an 11-by-100 meter strip of farmland the villagers claimed was their property.
On Tuesday several villagers were injured and one woman was reportedly left unconscious in the dispute when workers from the company attempted to forcibly remove villagers from their land.
More than 60 affected families claimed that they had not been consulted prior to the sale.
Chhim Chhav, 41, a protestor and cousin of the woman that was reportedly knocked unconscious, said Friday that the main goal behind the blockade was to gain the authorities’ attention so they put more effort into resolving the dispute.
“Clearing land in this way by the company is an injustice,” she said, adding that five hectares of land she used for growing mangoes and cassava was destroyed on Tuesday by the company’s bulldozers.
The company’s owner Heng Huy on Friday denied accusations that officials from the company had used violence against villagers.
He also said that the majority of villagers had accepted an eviction order from the Supreme Court in 2009, but that some had chosen to “grab land” from neighboring Chi Kor Leu commune.
“I would kindly give them some land to live on if the villagers gently asked our firm,” he said.
Sre Ambel district governor Suon Seila declined to comment on the matter when contacted Friday, though villagers said he had visited the site of the road blockade after protestors had been dispersed and said he would try and resolve the matter.
In Kong Cheth, provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho, said yesterday that the provincial court had denied a request filed on Thursday by villagers asking the court to issue an injunction obliging the company to stop all operations until an agreement has been reached.
“The court director gave a number of reasons for the denial such as the letter doesn’t specify the exact size of the disputed land, or the location of the land dispute,” he said.
Court director Huon Mony confirmed Friday that the request had been denied as basic documents proving claims over the land were missing.
“How can I issue an injunction?” he asked, recommending that villagers do their homework and resubmit the request.
On Thursday the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee and NGO Forum issued a joint statement calling on the provincial court to take legal action against the perpetrators involved in Tuesday’s violence.
“We would like to suggest that competent authorities not allow any threats on citizens and do not arrest villagers because of this land dispute,” the statement said.