Marching K Kong Villagers Want Hun Sen Audience

More than 100 Koh Kong pro­vince villagers involved in a land dispute are on a week-long march to Phnom Penh to seek a meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen, a villager and NGO officials said Tuesday.

“We want to meet Samdech [Hun Sen] face to face,” said An Haiya, a resident of Chikhor village in Sre Ambel district’s Chikhor Leu commune.

The group of 122 men, women and children, who also come from the commune’s Chhouk and Tra­paing Kandal villages, have at­tempted negotiation over the dispute and complained to the provincial court and the National Asse­mbly, all to no avail, he added.

“The villagers think that only Samdech Hun Sen can solve the issues,” he said. In a speech Mon­day, Hun Sen declared “war” on land grabbing and threatened to fire officials who have been en­croaching on state land.

In the dispute, which began in mid-2006, rights workers claim two companies controlled by CPP tycoon senator Ly Yong Phat have destroyed villagers’ crops to make way for a 20,000-hectare sugarcane plantation.

Ly Yong Phat could not be contacted Tuesday while a person answering a telephone belonging to his representative, Heng San, declined to comment.

Asked if Hun Sen would agree to meet with the group, Om Yen­tieng, the prime minister’s human rights adviser, said he was unfamiliar

with the matter and declined to

By Tuesday afternoon, the march, which began Monday in Sre Ambel district, had reached Kompong Seila district’s Krang Ath commune, 22 km from the Kom­pong Speu border and 122 km from the capital, a monitor for local rights group Licadho said on condition of anonymity.

A Licadho doctor said the group, which includes about 20 children, were exhausted from walking in the sun and were suffering from severe muscle pains, dyspepsia, diarrhea, and may have difficulty obtaining enough food and water for the rest of their journey.

Licadho Director Naly Pilorge said an agreement to meet with the villagers would demonstrate that the government had the will to match Hun Sen’s promise that he was going to get serious with government officials that grab land.

“This would be an indication to the public and international community that the [government] is willing to take action on its past and current promises to address land grabbing,” she wrote in an e-mail.

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