Local rights group Licadho declared a land dispute “crisis” Thursday because of the number of people who have traveled to Phnom Penh this week seeking intervention in their cases.
“The number of villagers coming to Phnom Penh to highlight land grievances—with people from five provinces arriving in the capital within the past 48 hours—shows the continuing dire situation of land-grabbing in Cambodia,” Licadho said in a statement issued Thursday afternoon.
According to Licadho, the groups that traveled to Phnom Penh this week include 100 villagers who are fighting for land in Kampot province’s Chhuk district, 70 people from the Bavel and Koas Krolar districts of Battambang province, 25 people from Preah Netr Preah district of Banteay Meanchey province, 20 villagers who used to live in Preah Vihear province and three people from Sala Krau district of Pailin province. In all, the land dispute protesters represent more than 1,000 villagers, Licadho said.
“These people should not have to come to Phnom Penh to beg for justice and a fair resolution of their cases, but they feel they have no other choice because local officials in their provinces have ignored their grievances,” Licadho President Kek Galabru said in the statement.
Nguon Nhel, first deputy president of the National Assembly, said the government has mechanisms to resolve such disputes.
“The people who have had their land grabbed, they could come to the National Assembly to ask for help from their lawmakers in that province or go to the office of the lawmakers in that province because we have 21 offices,” he said.
Yet some villagers said Thursday that they felt they had no other choice than to appeal directly to Prime Minister Hun Sen for help. Among them are the villagers from Battambang province who walked this week to Phnom Penh.
Of the approximately 200 villagers who set out on the 300 km journey, about 70 reached Phnom Penh on Thursday after six days and six nights walking on National Road 5, said marcher Nhem Charda, 35. The others returned mid-week in government-provided buses.
“My children have been walking for so many days that their legs are burning,” said Phat Neang, 45, a farmer from Bavel district.
“I am sorry for them, but we are at a turning point with our land dispute, so we need Samdech Hun Sen’s help first, before we die,” he said.
“We hope Samdech will help our children and solve our land dispute problem.”
(Additional reporting by Eang Mengleng and Katie Nelson)