Land Protesters Agree to Go Back to O’Smach

About 50 protesters from the no­rthern border town of O’Smach agreed to go home Thurs­day, after government officials promised for the second time to compensate them for land they claim was seized to make way for development, protesters and government officials said.

The villagers, who are en­camp­ed in front of the National Assembly, represent 305 families in Oddar Meanchey province forced off land to make way for a casino, hotel and market. About 34 representatives of the group Thursday hashed out the deal at a meeting with Kun Kim, RCAF deputy commander in chief, Ministry of Interior officials, Hun Sen adviser Chun Kanal and others.

Each family will receive 10,000 baht, 25 pieces of corrugated tin, and small plots of land.

“Everything is solved, and the land protesters will go home on Monday,” said Chum Kanal, who heads a land dispute committee. “They have agreed to take our plan.”

It is not the protesters first visit to Phnom Penh. All told, some 500 families claim to have lost their land to the development. Hundreds were in town last fall, leaving only after receiving assurances of a compensation package of land, building material and money.

Upon returning home, however, only 191 received the compensation, villagers said Thursday.

“Only a small number of villagers who are close to the powerful provincial people received compensation,” said a representative of the group, who declined to give his name because he feared for his safety.

The representative said they ­agreed to a deal but added, “we have little hope because provincial authorities and the military in that region always lie to us.”

Chum Kanal blamed the problems on the provincial governor of Oddar Meanchey, who he said never went to meet with the alleged land grab victims. He said a delegation led by Kun Kim will fly to O’Smach next Friday to make sure this time is different.

Eva Gallabru, director of the local human rights group Lic­adho, said the villagers have been forced to live in the jungle in a mined area. In recent months, there have been three casualties from land mines.

The breakthrough comes less then 24 hours after military police and police showed up with semi-automatic weapons and attempted to convince the villagers to move to a darker, less visible area outside Wat Botum. The villagers refused to go, leading to a tense standoff.

“We’d rather die here than go there,” one protester, who de­clined to give his name, said Wednesday night. “Over there it is so quiet, dark and not safe. We don’t want to live miserably and disturb anyone here.”

Though police eventually re­lented Wednesday night, the protesters agreed to move to the new spot Thursday as part of the deal struck with the government.

“The idea is to send them to another place to manage social order,” Pok Kosal, deputy chief of Doun Penh district, said. “We want to keep the park looking proper and beautiful. In the daytime, they can come here to protest, but we want them to keep their clothes, stoves and other properties there.” (Reporting by Pin Sisovann, Adam Piore, Van Roeun, Lor Chandara and Jeff Smith)

 

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