Protesters Block Highway Over Alleged Land Grabs by Firms

About 500 protesters erected barricades on National Road 76a in Kratie province’s Snuol district on Saturday to protest the loss of their farmland and homes to encroachment by three agro-industry firms: Sovann Rithy, Samnang Angkor and Dai Nam Cambodia, officials said yesterday.

The protest, which remained peaceful, prevented traffic from passing the blocked section of the national highway from about noon until 7:30 p.m., when the demonstration was called off following promises by local authorities to address the farmers’ grievances.

Traffic experienced only minimal disruption as police opened up an alternate route around the roadblock, which prevented transport from backing up, said deputy pro­vincial police chief Oum Phy.

Protester Heng Oun, 48, said that the latest decision to block the highway—Saturday was the fourth time the road was blocked by villagers—was taken because local officials had ignored pleas to intervene in the dispute between hundreds of farmers and the three companies. “We pro­tested to have our shelters and land taken back from the companies who have grabbed our land,” Mr. Oun said. The protest was called off after Snuol district officials promised to hold a meeting to discuss the land loss on Tuesday, he added.

However, Iv Saphum, Snuol’s governor, said the meeting would be held to determine how many of the protestrs had legitimate claim to land—a figure that the governor believes would be rather small.

“Among those protesters, there are only a few who have been affected by the companies. The companies have a policy to solve [land disputes] with them,” Mr. Saphum said. “It is illegal for them to protest by blocking National Road 76a and cause traffic jams,” he added.

Peaceful protest is not illegal, and local officials exacerbated the situation by not actively addressing the complaints of land grabbing, said Thim Narin, Kratie provincial coordinator of local rights group Adhoc.

“The authorities seem biased in favor of the companies.” Mr. Narin said.

Representatives of the three companies could not be reached.



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