Land Dispute Petitioners Lobby To Meet Hun Sen

Representatives of more than 42,000 petitioners, many wearing t-shirts bearing the words “Stop Evictions!”, gathered in afternoon of June 6 in Phnom Penh to protest against land rights abuses and to ask Prime Minister Hun Sen to “put his words into action.”

The petitions, which asks Hun Sen to stop “powerful people and companies [who] continue to steal land and destroy forests and fisheries,” were handed to the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights on June 5.

Petition representatives also asked office to facilitate a meeting with Hun Sen, and soon, because they feel the issue is more likely to be addressed during election time, said Seang Sokheng, 27, one of the representatives present at Friday’s five-hour meeting.

“This is to tell Hun Sen what is happening,” he said June 6 at the offices of the Womyns Agenda for Change, where photocopies of the petitions were strung from the ceiling and walls.

“I will explain all the problems, of every company and every official that takes our land,” said an unnamed rice farmer from Oddor Meanchey province’s Banteay Ampil district.

Government officials did not attend Friday’s meeting and several close to Hun Sen have said that they are unaware of the 42,000-name petition circulating.

Lim Leang Se, the prime minister’s deputy cabinet chief in charge of land disputes, said the petitioners must follow the course of all land dispute complaints.

“Please file a request with us first at the cabinet or at the Council of Ministers. And then we will review it,” he said by telephone Friday.

But the petitioners say they have exhausted all normal means for recourse and must now ask Hun Sen, the UN and NGOs for assistance, including Licadho and the East West Management Institute.

EWMI, whose Project on Rights and Justice has aided grass roots advocates since 2003, helped with the translation of press releases for events linked to the petition, spokesman Herb Bowman said.

“It’s important to know this is a grass roots effort. They’ve been networking for a long, long time,” he said by telephone June 6.

Representatives said they have no leader or central office and remain unaffiliated with any NGO or political party, yet they manage to keep organized and updated by phone and word of mouth.

Licadho President Kek Galabru, present at Thursday’s meeting and Friday’s rally, said her NGO has played a small, supportive role in assisting the network, as it only learned of the petition last week.

To her knowledge, Hun Sen has never granted a meeting with petitioners of land abuse, but neither have so many signatures ever been collected, as well. “They all think that if this does not reach the prime minister, they have no chance of having their problems solved,” Kek Galabru said by tele­phone June 6. (Additional reporting by Prak Chan Thul and Cheng Sokhorng)

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