More villagers involved in a land dispute with an agribusiness company in Kratie province arrived at Phnom Penh’s Samakki Raingsey pagoda Monday as they announced plans to march on Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house if their land dispute is not settled by Friday.
Two trucks carrying about 40 villagers from the disputed land in Snuol district arrived Monday morning, bringing to nearly 200 the number of villagers using Samakki Raingsey as a home base while they protest in the capital. Another 20 or 30 more people are expected to arrive today, according to villager representatives.
“The number of people is increasing because we demand land titles. We are gathering because we want to march to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house demanding he find a solution for us,” villager Din Saroeun, 39, said Monday.
Mr. Saroeun said representatives would hold meetings with the pagoda’s leaders this week to decide how best to approach the planned demonstration.
“Even if the authorities try to block us from marching we will not listen and march on, as we need Prime Minister Hen Sen to know what we are experiencing,” he said.
Another representative of the villagers, Son Minea, said those housed in Samakki Raingsey pagoda plus others currently staying elsewhere in Phnom Penh should number about 300 by Friday if the villagers’ demands for their land to be returned are not met.
City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche declined to comment on the planned protest.
Mr. Minea said the villagers had been receiving food donations from the opposition CNRP, and that a CNRP Youth leader, Pen Sophea, had visited the pagoda to distribute eggs, fish and rice.
CNRP spokesman Yim Sovann confirmed that the CNRP Youth had been providing food to the Snuol villagers. However, he claimed that the youth group was not controlled by the CNRP.
“Every Cambodian living in the U.S. always gives donations to poor people in Cambodia across the country, and Mr. Pen Sophea delivers the gifts by hand, not only at Samakki Raingsey pagoda, but across the country,” Mr. Sovann explained.
The villagers, who say they began moving onto the Snuol commune land in 2000, are embroiled in a dispute with the Horizon Agricultural Department over roughly 1,500 hectares of land, which the company wants to use for a cassava and pepper plantation.
In May, another group of farmers from Snuol district camped out at Samakki Raingsey pagoda to mount protests against their own eviction at the hands of a rubber company. They eventually accepted a 750-hectare social land concession.