By Pin SisovannMore than 100 former Thai border camp refugees from Banteay Meanchey province, who have been camped out in the park opposite the National Assembly since May 12, agreed to return home on Tuesday after their deputy provincial governor promised to solve their land dispute.
Deputy Governor Sar Chamrong’s written promise followed a failed police attempt earlier in the day to forcibly remove the villagers, from Preah Netr Preah district, by packing them along with their belongings onto two trucks.
The villagers eventually agreed to ride in the government trucks once Sar Chamrong, who was in Phnom Penh for a meeting at the Interior Ministry, met with the protesters and guaranteed their safety.
Nearly 200 villagers from Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district also returned home on Tuesday by truck after reaching an agreement Monday with their district governor, Tep Khunnal, who visited Phnom Penh and told villagers he would ensure they had land to live on.
By noon on Tuesday, the only people still camped in the park opposite the Assembly were 28 Phnong minority and Khmer villagers from Mondolkiri province’s Sen Monorom district.
The 28 villagers allege that bodyguards working for Ly Kim Long, the Interior Ministry’s deputy director-general of the National Authority for Combating Drugs, burned down their homes on May 14.
Contacted by telephone, Ly Kim Long firmly denied the villagers’ allegations. “I have no bodyguards,” he said, adding that he had officially owned the villagers’ land in Mondolkiri province since obtaining it in 1999.
Ly Kim Long added that provincial officials had “dismantled” the villagers’ homes.
The Interior Ministry official also accused human rights workers of “unfairly” supporting the villagers’ grievances, claiming that Peun Pean, one of the affected villagers, worked for local rights group Adhoc.
Peun Pean denied working for Adhoc, saying she was merely the victim of a land dispute.