Hundreds of irate riverbank dwellers armed with sticks, knives and hammers gathered on Norodom Boulevard Thursday morning to prevent what they believed was the attempted closure of an access road to their village by municipal authorities.
Men, women and children from Village 10 in Chamkar Mon district picked up weapons after the arrival Thursday morning of about 30 municipal and military police.
Villagers said after the tense standoff that municipal authorities want to close the access road because it is on land which is now part of the new Thai embassy compound on Norodom Boulevard south of Mao Tse Tung.
The road running adjacent to the embassy compound from the riverbank to Norodom Boulevard is the only route to reach the city on foot, villagers said Thursday.
Kuch Chamroeun, deputy governor of Chamkar Mon district, confirmed Thursday the access road is on Thai embassy land, but added there will be no forced closure of the road.
“We are trying to solve this problem for both sides. But we need time to find a good solution for the villagers and the Thai embassy,” said Kuch Chamroeun, adding that police and municipality officials only visited the road Thursday morning to assess the situation.
Thai Ambassador to Cambodia Asiphol Chabchigrchaidol declined to comment Thursday, stating the issue was one for the municipality to resolve.
Phnom Penh Governor Chea Sophara said Thursday that discussions are taking place with the Thai embassy to find an alternative route for the villagers.
Ket Leiu, 45, who has lived in the village since 1982, said Thursday that if the road is closed villagers will have to use boats to reach the city from their riverbank location.
So Kem, chief of Village 10, said Thursday that the disputed road belongs to the villagers who raised three million riel ($789) to improve its surface. A second access road has already been closed due to the embassy’s construction, he added.
Late Thursday evening, villagers were busy constructing a makeshift barrier at the entrance to the disputed road to keep out construction vehicles working on the embassy. They claimed the vehicles are damaging their road.