Siem Reap Land Protest Draws Crowd of 1,000

In a rare display of solidarity outside of Phnom Penh, more than 1,000 people with varied land-related grievances across Siem Reap province gathered in front of the provincial governor’s office on Tuesday to demand action, and left with a promise from the governor to help.

Activist Chhek Sambo said Wednesday she had helped organize the protesters and was one of the 18 representatives from as many communities to meet with provincial governor Khim Bunsong.

Ms. Sambo said the group included people locked in land disputes with the Forestry Administration, those who have been asking the government to measure their land in hopes of securing land titles, and those who have had their land measured but were still waiting for titles.

“The provincial governor promised to find solutions within two weeks for the protesters,” she said.

Ms. Sambo explained she was among those still waiting for a title after having her land measured last year by one of several teams of university students sent out across the country by Prime Minister Hun Sen to speed up the titling process.

Ms. Sambo said that in 2008, local authorities sold to someone else 3 hectares of land that she had bought in 1997—and that she served six months in jail in 2009 after the provincial court convicted her of stealing the land. She said she has managed to hold on to the land but wanted a title to secure her claim.

Despite the unusual number of protesters and breadth of grievances represented at the event, she insisted no organization was behind them.

Keo Sophy, another of the protesters, said she had bought a 183-hectare farm in 1998 but was evicted by the Forestry Administration in 2003. She came back in June last year to reoccupy about half the land and was warned by the administration last month that she would be evicted again by force if she did not leave.

“I joined the protest with the other villagers to demand my farmland back because the Forestry Administration confiscated my land and cleared it to plant acacia trees instead,” she said.

Mr. Bunsong, the provincial governor, said authorities had already solved some of the protesters’ grievances but declined to elaborate. He accused some of the others, however, of living illegally on the land they are claiming and said that settling their disputes would require the intervention of the upper levels of government.

“I will send the cases to the institutions involved, mainly the Ministry of Agriculture, because these problems involve the ministry,” he said Wednesday. “They want a fast solution, and we are working on it.”

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