Nearly 70 villagers from Sihanoukville staged protests in Phnom Penh this week and called on national authorities to help return land from which they say they were forcibly evicted earlier this month.
Over 40 homes were razed and five people were arrested in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune Oct 16 and 17 when armed police evicted 45 families from land claimed by unnamed businessmen and a local commune official.
Municipal Governor Say Hak has denied claims that the villagers occupied the 300 hectare plot since as early as 1993 and accused the villagers of squatting on the land in makeshift dwellings. He has also denied villager claims that police used violence in the eviction.
Say Hak said Tuesday that the villagers had begun occupying the land just last year.
“Within one hour, the houses were full,” he said.
The 67 villagers gathered in protest outside the Interior Ministry and the Council of Ministers Tuesday and Wednesday and have delivered letters of complaint to the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, the Interior Ministry and the National Assembly, according to villagers.
Villager representative Min Pos, 33, said Tuesday that since the eviction the families have been living in tents opposite the Bit Traing commune office.
“They came to take our land without telling us in advance,” she said. “They attacked at night.”
SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang, who is also Deputy Chairman of the land dispute authority, said Wednesday that he understood the villagers had not been admitted at the Council of Ministers but that they were expected at the land dispute authority today.
“They were allowed to meet Interior Ministry officials Tuesday,” he said.
Interior Ministry officials could not be contacted Wednesday evening.
Sim Sirann, 38, said Wednesday that the protesters plan to travel to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s home today in Kandal province’s Takhmau town.
(Additional reporting by Pin Sisovann)