Land-Dispute Villagers Protest Outside Cabinet Meeting

Three protesters were arbitrarily thrown onto municipal security trucks and driven away from a demonstration on Friday outside the Council of Ministers building, where Prime Minister Hun Sen had called a meeting to discuss how the government will manage protests in the city.

Some 70 protesters from communities locked in long-running land disputes, including Boeng Kak and Borei Keila in Phnom Penh and Lor Peang village in Kompong Chhnang province, were met in the morning by riot police wielding shields and batons, who blocked them from delivering their petitions to the government leaders.

Villagers from three communities embroiled in long-running land disputes clash with riot police during a protest outside the Council of Ministers building on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)
Villagers from three communities embroiled in long-running land disputes clash with riot police during a protest outside the Council of Ministers building on Friday. (Siv Channa/The Cambodia Daily)

Mr. Hun Sen said Thursday that a meeting would be held on Friday to discuss how to manage land protesters, such as the Lor Peang villagers, who regularly travel to Phnom Penh to have their grievances heard. He called top-level officials in the municipal government and security forces to attend.

At about 9 a.m., three anti-eviction activists from the former Boeng Kak lake community, from which some 3,000 families were forcibly evicted, were lifted off the street by helmeted security guards, loaded onto a waiting truck and taken to a roundabout in Tuol Kok district, where they were released.

Phnom Penh deputy governor Khuong Sreng eventually arrived at the demonstration to accept petitions from the protestors and pledged to deliver them to the Council of Ministers and Mr. Hun Sen.

Mr. Sreng told protesters, however, that future petitions must be delivered to Phnom Penh City Hall.

“Why do we say this? Firstly [protesting] is tiring for you. Secondly it makes traffic jams and affects other people’s rights,” he said.

Oum Sophy, a representative of Lor Peang villagers, who for more than a decade have been fighting to keep land claimed by the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, called on the government to release five men from the area who have been detained following clashes with workers building a wall on the disputed land.

“If the government does not resolve our land dispute, we won’t return to our houses because if we go back there, we will be arrested by police,” she said.

Speaking on Thursday at a graduation ceremony, Mr. Hun Sen blamed a slow-moving bureaucracy for testing villagers’ patience until they resort to traveling to Phnom Penh to air their grievances. In a speech on Monday, he told provincial officials to deal with land disputes or resign from their posts.

Earlier in the week, the prime minister also signed off on the establishment of a new inter-ministerial committee to review all economic land concessions to establish whether they have breached their contracts with the government.

Sung Sreyleap, an activist from the Boeng Kak community, said the prime minister’s remarks would not resonate with local bureaucrats.

“What Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] said is not effective because lower officials levels do not respect it,” she said.

Numerous officials who attended Friday’s meeting with Mr. Hun Sen declined to comment on what was discussed.

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong confirmed that he attended the meeting but would not provide any details.

“It is just a meeting for government duties, not for journalists to get involved,” he said.

CNRP Vice President Kem Sokha on Thursday wrote a letter to Mr. Hun Sen requesting that any cases in which villagers have been imprisoned over land disputes be reviewed.

“Many Cambodian people are suffering and being imprisoned because of land disputes,” the letter says “and some provincial authorities have not properly implemented the order of Samdech [Mr. Hun Sen] as he has mentioned recently.”

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