A group of Poipet villagers who have been trying for three months to convince the government to help them in a land dispute went right to the top Monday.
“Long live Prime Minister Hun Sen!” they cheered through loudspeakers near the Council of Ministers. “You are a great leader! Solve this problem for us!”
The villagers attempted to march on the Council of Ministers building where the prime minister maintains an office, but were stopped by police about a block away.
Khun Chinken, deputy secretary-general of the Council of Ministers, met with representatives of the protesters and promised to deliver their complaint to Hun Sen, said 55-year-old Ly Keo Sovann, who said he represents 810 families.
“If the prime minister does not solve our problem, we will continue to march,” he said.
The dispute involves 14 hectares of land in Kbar Spean village, Poipet commune, O’Chrou district, in Banteay Meanchey province. The land, near the Golden Casino, has sharply risen in value in recent years. The families say it was their land until it was confiscated by local authorities, who they say “colluded” with court officials to sell the land to casino developers.
Local officials, however, say the land was legally sold in 1997 and that the courts are simply upholding the rights of the legal owners.
“We cannot interfere with the court’s affairs,” said Banteay Meanchey Governor Thach Khorn. Oun Yan, 45, another protester, said the families marched on the Council of Ministers because four previous complaints to that body brought no results.
Chhun Meach, 42, said she and her three children were moved off land she had occupied since 1990 to Prey Kup, a 30-hectare village 13 km from town.
The new location is deep in the jungle, she said, “very far from the market.” She said she makes her living carrying goods from Thailand to Cambodia, and her new location makes it hard to work.