About 100 villagers locked in a land dispute with an agribusiness firm from Kratie province were blocked from marching to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house Tuesday by hundreds of military police and municipal security guards after walking from Phnom Penh’s Samakki Raingsey pagoda.
The villagers, who have been camped in the pagoda for two weeks while attempting to petition Mr. Hun Sen for help, eventually handed a petition to a cabinet official, who arrived at Wat Botum park after a two-hour wait.
The group last handed a petition to a representative of the prime minister on July 23 and pledged last week to march to Mr. Hun Sen’s house if a solution was not found by Friday.
“We have come again because when we submitted it before there was no reply,” said Uth Seanghay, a representative of the villagers.
At about 8 a.m., the farmers from Kratie’s Snuol district paraded down Sothearos Boulevard alongside monks from the pagoda chanting “injustice, injustice” and holding placards displaying the faces of Mr. Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany.
The situation briefly turned tense as trucks carrying military police were deployed along with district security guards on the corner of Sothearos and Sihanouk boulevards to prevent the protesters from turning right toward the prime minister’s villa.
After a short standoff, the villagers congregated on the corner of Wat Botum park holding up copies of land titles they claim were issued to them in 2012. Pal Chandara, a member of Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet, arrived at about 10:30 a.m. to collect the petition.
“We can’t find a solution for all of you at this time but I received the letter and I will pass it to the upper level to push local authorities to find a solution for all of you,” Mr. Chandara told the assembled farmers.
Upon returning to Samakki Raingsey pagoda, the group of Kratie villagers vowed to continue protesting if their claim to more than 1,500 hectares of land in Snuol district, which the Horizon Agriculture Development firm wants to turn into a cassava and pepper plantation, is not officially recognized.
“We won’t try to get a solution with local authorities because we have tried many times. We will continue to stay at the pagoda to make new plans to protest, demanding Samdech Hun Sen help find a real solution,” said Suon Vichheka, one of the farmers.
Sam Nal, deputy governor of Snuol district, said that despite a working group measuring 1,652 hectares of land for the villagers in 2012, local authorities returned the land to Horizon Agriculture after the company filed a complaint.
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