Siv Yoeun, 57, squatted nervously against a veneered wall on Friday while two statesmen discussed behind closed doors the fate of what he says is his land.
Since he was evicted from his Poipet home in June, Siv Yoeun has come to Phnom Penh to seek reparations. And on Friday, he made his way to the Ministry of Interior. By the end of the day, however, it was unclear how far he had gotten.
In a rare meeting, the politician representing Siv Yoeun’s concerns, opposition party leader Sam Rainsy, and members of the ruling CPP, namely co-Minister of Interior Sar Kheng, tried to resolve recent disputes in Poipet —where land grabs have been a growing concern. But the two sides failed to reach agreement.
“There has been no solution to this land dispute,” Sam Rainsy said. He added, however, that the two sides at least had a chance to exchange information.
He had little else to say about the meeting, and Sar Kheng did not brief reporters.
Yet the meeting marked the second time high-ranking officials met with the opposition in recent months, Sam Rainsy noted.
The first, between Phnom Penh city governor Chea Sophara and Sam Rainsy, resulted in the approved construction of a memorial stupa for victims of a 1997 grenade attack.
For Siv Yoeun and a handful of other now-landless villagers who came to the Ministry of Interior, Friday’s meeting was not the end of the discussion. For ten years, Siv Yoeun lived with roughly 810 families on a 5.5 hectare piece of land.
“When we moved there, no one said the land belonged to them. It was strewn with bamboo and land mines,” he said. “We risked our lives removing the land mines and settled down there for years.”
And then this summer, they were all driven away.
“On June 23, 2000, we were evicted by about 200 soldiers, police and military police,” Siv Yoeun said. “We were very shocked when we were told that the land was owned and titled to a military officer.
“Our houses were shot down. They shot into the ground to frighten us. They said we would be killed if we opposed the order,” he said. “Now I am very frightened that the authorities want to arrest me.
“I would like to appeal to the government to help us get back to the land, because we are landless,” Siv Yoeun said. “We rely on the government to solve this problem.”