The plight of the embattled Lor Peang villagers from Kompong Chhnang province took on a political tone Thursday, when CNRP President Sam Rainsy paid a visit to the former Boeng Kak lake area, where about 50 of the villagers are taking shelter after walking from their homes to Phnom Penh to petition the government.
Mr. Rainsy’s visit came a day after the villagers—three of whom were arrested as they marched from their homes on Tuesday—were blocked by police in Russei Keo district.
“I have kept an eye on the situation and understand your difficulties, brothers and sisters,” Mr. Rainsy told the villagers, who say that the KDC company, owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, illegally grabbed their land in 2002.
He said they were “victims, because your land has been encroached upon, stolen, and they have used violence against you.”
On Wednesday, Mr. Rainsy announced his intention to haul Mr. Sem before the National Assembly so that he can question him about the influence Ms. Kheng has over the authorities and courts in the area.
On Thursday, he told the villagers that he and his party members would “struggle together” with them. He told the crowd he would personally donate $200 to help them pay for food and shelter, with a further $600 donated from CNRP supporters in the U.S.
Lor Peang representative Khat Saruon—whose husband Seang Heng is in prison awaiting trial on charges of intentional destruction of property and causing violence against KDC workers in July—said villagers were grateful.
“When we were on the way [to Phnom Penh], we faced all kinds of obstacles—beatings, arrests and being put behind bars…they treated us like animals, not human beings,” she said of Tuesday’s clashes.
“When our people feel better, we will march to the National Assembly to demand the release of our husbands and get back our land.”