More than 200 villagers from Kratie province’s Snuol district marched through Phnom Penh on Friday and submitted petitions to seven foreign embassies and the European Union, seeking intervention in a long-running land dispute with a Vietnamese company.
The villagers, who were joined in their march by several monks, said they represented 405 families from Khyoem commune living on 2,025 hectares of land that was recently cleared by the Binh Phuoc 2 company.
During the four-hour march, they delivered petitions to the U.S., British, French, Australian, Japanese and Vietnamese embassies as well as the E.U., and prayed in front of a statue of the late Supreme Patriarch Chuon Nath.
“Please, embassy officials, help us because we do not have land to live on,” said villager Heng Kimheath, 50, tears streaming from her eyes.
“We are Cambodian citizens, so we need to live suitably on Khmer land!” shouted another protester, Yorn Nary, 48.
The villagers said that Binh Phuoc, a rubber company, had destroyed the cassava trees, rice paddies and vegetables they had planted since moving to the land in 2008.
Nguon Vibol, 34, a representative of the villagers, said most of them had come from Kompong Cham or Prey Veng provinces in search of free land.
“We went to live there because we did not have any land to live at our homeland and did not have money to buy the land,” he said.
According to Mr. Vibol and the aggrieved villagers, local authorities had implicitly sanctioned their move by suggesting that they change the registration of their family books from their old hometowns to Khyoem commune in Snuol.
“We did it, following their [request],” he said.
However, Men Vanna, deputy governor of Snuol district, said that only a minority of the families had been farming the area since 2008, and that the vast majority had moved there just last year and were illegally occupying state forestland.
“The land of the Vietnamese company is not affecting the people’s land,” he added, explaining that Binh Phuoc’s land concession did not overlap with the land the 405 families occupy.
The group of villagers also staged protests in Phnom Penh on May 5 and 6, shortly after CNRP President Sam Rainsy attempted to visit the site of their dispute while on the stump for Sunday’s provincial and district council elections. Although Mr. Rainsy was blocked from reaching Binh Phuoc’s plantation, he did meet with around 200 villagers and distributed 20,000 riel (about $5) to each of them, Mr. Vibol said.