About 600 people involved in land disputes across the country gathered at Phnom Penh’s Freedom Park on Monday to air their grievances on a host of issues in preparation to submit a petition to the government.
Organized by the Cambodian Grassroots Cross-Sector Network, the fifth annual “people’s congress” brought together representatives of 24 communities across 17 provinces, all of them embroiled in a fight for land with private companies or powerful officials—or both.
Am Sam Ath, technical supervisor for rights group Licadho, said the representatives split into four groups to tackle specific issues: agriculture; education and the garment sector; human rights and democracy; and land disputes.
But the event focused foremost on the last of those issues. According to Licadho, hundreds of thousands of families have had land stolen from them—or been threatened with its loss—by well-connected firms and individuals since 2000.
“The people gathered here today because they want to express how they have suffered over their land, and to ask the government to work faster to find a solution for them because they are farmers and their living standards will be affected if they lose their crops,” Mr. Sam Ath said.
He added that the remarks of the participants would be collected into a report and submitted to the relevant government ministries by the end of the week, along with a petition from the communities asking for help in settling their various disputes.
Oum Sophy joined the congress from Kompong Chhnang province, where she and other families have been feuding for several years with KDC International, a private company belonging to the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem.
“I believe the congress will help us get a solution from the government because people will not vote for them if they do not help,” she said.