Police in Preah Vihear province on Monday stopped a meeting between the U.N. human rights envoy to Cambodia and ethnic Kuoy villagers attempting to air their grievances over a long-running land dispute between them and a Chinese sugar cane plantation, according to the U.N.
As part of her second fact-finding mission in the country, Rhona Smith met briefly with villagers affected by a sugarcane plantation owned by the Lan Feng company, which in 2011 was granted a 9,000-hectare concession over land the Kuoy say they have been farming for generations. But the meeting in Tbeng Meanchey district’s Brameru commune was broken up by plainclothes police officers.
The incident occurred ahead of Ms. Smith’s meeting on Tuesday with deputy provincial governor Sok Hai to discuss issues including police obstruction of interactions between communities and NGOs.
“The [special rapporteur] herself experienced this on Tuesday when police officers (without identification and not in uniform) told her team to stop meeting with [Kuoy] indigenous community members in Prome village pending clearance from the district level,” said the post to the U.N.’s Human Rights in Cambodia Facebook page.
“The deputy governor apologized for the disruption, pledging to investigate the incident. He also confirmed police should be identified in uniform when on duty,” it added.
Roeung Khan, a village representative, said the villagers had enough time to relay some of their concerns to Ms. Smith before the meeting ended.
“We lost the land not because of our carelessness, but we lost the land because the government gave a land concession to the Chinese company,” she said.
Despite police breaking up the meeting, Ms. Khan said the villagers would not be muzzled by the local authorities.
“We have faced this problem many times already in the past,” she said.
Provincial officials could not be reached for comment.
Ms. Smith’s current mission is due to end on Thursday.