Por Sokha is spending the Festival of the Dead holiday camped out in front of the National Assembly in hopes of getting back her land, a ritual she has practiced for the last month and a half.
She and about 300 villagers from Banteay Meanchey’s Poipet commune have been sleeping at night at Hun Sen Park next to the river and coming to the park in front of the National Assembly building during the day.
“I am very sorry that I could not go to the pagoda,” Por Sokha said, staring at the ground. “But I have a few riel that I will chip in for Pchum Ben here.”
For 10 years, Por Sokha, a 53-year-old fruit vendor, lived with about 800 families on a 5.5- hectare piece of land. Villagers say they were kicked out of their home by high-ranking officials in June and arrived in Phnom Penh on Aug 14 to protest.
Por Sokha said she hadn’t expected to be here for so long and now she can’t go home because she has no money for transportation.
“I thought the problem would be solved in a few days,” she said.
In August, opposition leader Sam Rainsy and co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng held a rare meeting aimed at solving the numerous land disputes that have plagued Poipet, but no resolution was found.
Last year, 65-year-old Chen Phai went to a Buddhist monastery to pray during the Festival of the Dead. But this year, she is spending the holiday sitting on a battered straw mat in front of the National Assembly, praying for a miracle.
“I feel remorse because I could not go to the pagoda to pray for the dead,” Chen Phai said, looking at her scabbed hands. “But I don’t know what else to do.”