The tactic of blocking roads during land dispute protests grew in popularity this year, with protesters blocking roads twice as many times as in 2010, rights group Adhoc said yesterday.
Yi Soksan, deputy chief of Adhoc’s land rights division, said the group had documented seven cases of villagers blocking roads in 2010, and 15 cases in 2011.
“All these cases were related to land conflicts, forced evictions and land grabbing,” Mr Soksan said. “When villagers face eviction, they are not afraid of the law. When they lose their homes and land, they lose their livelihoods.”
He added that while roadblocks are becoming an increasingly popular method of highlighting an issue, the action is typically used as a last resort.
“The villagers know that it will affect traffic, but they have no choices. They protest this way because they want the government to participate in solving land conflicts that seriously affect them.”
On Monday, scores of female protesters from Boeng Kak lake strode out onto Monivong Boulevard in front of Phnom Penh’s City Hall, blocking traffic for about 25 minutes and demanding that 94 families be included in a 12.44-hectare plot of land promised to lake residents by Prime Minister Hun Sen in August. Over the course of the day, four women were arrested and later charged.
“The Boeng Kak residents blocked the road, because they don’t have a solution,” Mr Soksan said. “But when they blocked the road, the court charged [the four women] with obstructing public officials.”
Boeng Kak resident Kong Chantha, one of the women charged and released on Tuesday, said: “We blocked the road because the authorities did not pay attention and come and meet us,” adding that she had been involved in two road blocks to date.
A recent case not included in the Adhoc report involved more than 100 villagers embroiled in a long-running land dispute, who on Friday blocked National Road 4 for three hours in Kompong Speu province’s Phnom Sruoch district, after police and military police moved in with bulldozers to clear 160 hectares of the disputed land.
(Additional reporting by Khuon Narim)