A standoff between about 20 military police and hundreds of villagers on Koh Pich, an island opposite the NagaCorp Casino, over the construction of a police post on a resident’s land ended peacefully on Tuesday evening, after mediation from a district official.
To prevent military police from building, about 200 villagers sat for nearly four hours on wood that was placed on land occupied by island resident Chum Sam Oeun.
Workers started placing the wood on Chum Sam Oeun’s property at 2 pm, and when he asked the military what they were doing, he did not get a response. Villagers began protesting at 3 pm to prevent the erection of the post.
One of five military police officers based on Koh Pich, Ngoo Sarin, 31, said he received the order to build the post from the Phnom Penh Municipality. About 15 other officers were deployed to oversee construction, he said.
At about 5 pm, Chamkar Mon district conflict mediator Chan Sao arrived to negotiate an agreement that neither the military nor police would construct on Chum Sam Oeun’s land.
Villagers said they have been intimidated to sell their land ever since City Hall issued a December 6 order requiring them to vacate their homes within a month.
A Jan 6 deadline passed, despite the municipality’s contention that the island is state property.
Vong Neng, 27, co-owner of a boat that most villagers used to reach the mainland, said she was forced to sell the boat for $700 by the village group leader.
“I don’t have a choice,” she said. “If I don’t sell, they don’t allow us to operate.”
Chum Sam Oeun said ever since the boat was sold, children are having difficulty getting to school and farmers have been delayed in getting to the markets.
The Housing Rights Task Force, comprised of US-backed Public Interest Legal Advocacy Project and the UN High Commission on Human Rights, is helping Koh Pich residents prove they are legal land owners.
“Good faith negotiations are the way to solve the case. Intimidation tactics, like those being reported today, will only make matters worse,” said Ouk Kimleng, a PILAP attorney.
Attempts to reach Phnom Penh Governor Kep Chuktema were unsuccessful.