S’ville Villagers in Phnom Penh to Protest Evictions

About 30 villagers facing eviction in Preah Sihanouk province traveled to Phnom Penh to protest in front of Wat Botum yesterday afternoon and demand that they be allowed to keep their homes.

The villagers said a total of 140 families lived on the disputed 64-hectare site in Stung Hav district’s O’Tres commune. They said local authorities demolished about 70 of their homes on Friday, before giving them a one-month reprieve to move off the land.

Kong Kdoep, who said her home was among those razed, held a portrait of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany.

“Please, Samdech and Louk Chumteav, help your children, because we have no place to live,” she said, using honorific titles for the premier and his wife.

Kong Chamroeun, a representative of the premier’s Cabinet, came out to meet the protesters and suggested they prepare a petition for him. The villagers said they would hand their petition to Mr Chamroeun this morning.

Morm Sina, another protester, said he believed the land was rightfully theirs because no one had objected to their tenure since their arrival in 2000.

“We are accused of living anarchically on somebody else’s land,” he said. “But since we moved in, no one has claimed that that piece of land belongs to them.”

Khav Pov, who also traveled from Preah Sihanouk for the protest, said the families had been using the land to grow crops and make charcoal.

“We would like the government to help solve this land dispute for us,” he said.

Provincial governor Sboang Sarath said he was only complying with an August 2009 order from the Supreme Court, which found that since 1995 the land had belonged to a private company whose name Mr Sarath claimed not to be able to recall.

“We have only executed a Supreme Court order because the villagers have lived illegally on a company’s land,” he said.

Asked why he ordered the eviction 15 months after the court order, he declined to comment.

Pon Saroeun, second deputy commune chief, said ownership of the site was actually split between an individual whose name he could not remember and the Tai Seng company. Contact information could not be obtained for either.

The families “live on somebody else’s land, and we must be serious with villagers living on somebody else’s land,” he said.


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