Sihanoukville Villagers Block Road in Land Dispute Protest

About 300 villagers from 10 communities in Preah Sihanouk province blocked a road in front of the provincial hall for more than two hours Monday demanding intervention in their land disputes.

The villagers began blocking the road just before 11 a.m. and ended their protest at about 1 p.m. after provincial Governor Chhit Sokhon accepted a petition from them and met with villager representatives, who vowed to take their protests to Phnom Penh if their demands are not met.

The group included three communities from Prey Nop’s Ream commune who are currently involved in a land dispute with the Chinese-owned Yijea Investment Group, which received an economic land concession in 2004 to develop a tourist area on 3,300 hectares in Ream National Park.

Keo Piseth, a representative from Ream commune’s Veal Chanti community, said villagers have been battling Yijea since 2007 after being evicted without compensation from land they had lived on since 1990.

“One company has grabbed our land without compensating so I believe that His Excellency the governor will intervene in the dispute,” he said.

Nam Then, a representative of the Ou Kampuchea community, which is also involved in a dispute with Yijea, said community members were protesting because the company blocked a 10-km stretch of road in April.

“This has made it hard for villagers to travel,” said Mr. Then, adding that if provincial authorities do not order the company to unblock the road, villagers will travel to Phnom Penh and protest in front of the National Assembly.

In August, frustrated by growing numbers of villagers making their way to the capital to protest the loss of their land, Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered local officials to deal with land disputes locally or resign their posts.

Prak Chansokha, deputy provincial governor, confirmed that provincial authorities had received the petition, which was thumbprinted by representatives of the 1,105 families affected by land disputes. She said she would send officials to check on the details of the disputes.

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