A group of Kompong Chhnang villagers in a fight for land with the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem delivered petitions to the Ministry of Justice and National Assembly on Monday, one of five communities from across the country that have recently traveled to Phnom Penh seeking the government’s help in settling their festering land disputes.
The roughly 70 Lor Peang villagers have been feuding since 2007 over 145 hectares of farmland with KDC, a company owned by Mr. Sem’s wife, Chea Kheng. They are appealing for the government’s help in getting back the land and securing the release of five fellow villagers who have been in pre-trial detention since a clash with KDC workers in July.
Although the Kompong Chhnang villagers have clashed with Phnom Penh police during recent attempts to deliver their petition, they enjoyed an unencumbered march through the city Monday.
A group of about 60 other villagers locked in land disputes in four other provinces were not so lucky.
The villagers—from Battambang, Banteay Meanchey, Kratie and Pailin provinces—hoped to march with their petitions to the National Assembly and Mr. Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh home. But when the group attempted to leave the Samakki Raingsey pagoda in Meanchey district, where they have been staying, police and district security guards arrived at about 8 a.m. to block their way.
“City Hall does not allow you to march…because it would cause a traffic jam,” deputy district governor Hieng Chanleang told the villagers. “I have come on behalf of City Hall to take your petitions so that, brothers and sisters, you don’t have a difficult time walking. The petitions will reach their destination.”
The villagers were at first reluctant to give up on their march. “We have seen authorities take our petition and never reply, so we want to march and hand in our petition ourselves,” said Om Sam Ol, one of the villagers from Pailin who has been in a land dispute with a private firm since 2010.
After negotiating with the help of the pagoda’s monks, however, the villagers agreed to forgo their walk and leave their petitions with Mr. Chanleang.
Some of the villagers in the group said they had come to Phnom Penh after hearing that Mr. Hun Sen was creating a new committee to deal with land disputes.
Last week, the prime minister created a new inter-ministerial committee for investigating whether companies holding economic land concessions (ELCs), blamed for the majority of forced evictions in Cambodia, are abiding by their contracts with the government.
On Friday, the prime minister also met with top government leaders and provincial governors to discuss the flood of petitions his cabinet regularly receives from communities coming to Phnom Penh.