Phnom Penh Municipal Court was thrown into disarray Thursday morning when more than 150 protesting villagers blocked court staff from going to work and sent others already at work home.
The villagers were protesting alleged grabbing of land in Dangkao district. Military police chained the front gates of the city’s main court for most of the morning, said court clerk Pich Sambath.
“Everybody went home because of the protests. But that doesn’t mean the court is not working. I’m still here,” he said.
Chief Prosecutor Uk Savuth also insisted the court’s work was not disrupted by the protest.
Villager Su Seng said outside the court that he had traveled with 15 other people from Prey Veng commune to lodge a complaint against the alleged sale of 19 hectares of land that rightfully belonged to the villagers. Another 200 villagers had come to court to support them, said Su Seng.
“The authority did not divide the land and we don’t have enough land for farming. So now people must become (motorbike taxi drivers) and live wherever they can. This is why there are so many people living [in anarchy],” said Su Seng.
Although the gates were shut at 8 am, the16 representatives were allowed enter the court at 10 am to file their complaint, said Su Seng.
According to a copy of the complaint, Prey Veng Commune Chief Dy Sokchea sold 19 hectares of village land to business people and colleagues. The protesters say they just discovered last month that the land was sold in the early 1990s, said villager Touch Narin.
Not so, said Dangkao District Governor Kruoch Phan: the land was legally distributed in the mid-1980s to the 12 people who own it today. He said all families in Prey Veng commune received land at the same time and in the same manner, and that the protests are being organized by the Sam Rainsy Party. Dy Sokchea and the new owners of the land have filed a counter-complaint against the villagers, Kruoch Phan said.