Villagers Mark Six Years Since Violent Eviction

Some 200 monks, villagers and land rights activists came together in Siem Reap province’s Chi Kreng district on Saturday to mark the six-year anniversary of the day that police opened fire on a group of farmers protesting their impending eviction.

Four men were injured in the March 22, 2009, shooting, while 12 villagers were arrested and jailed after the protest for various offenses. Those who shot the farmers were never apprehended or brought to justice.

The 175 families who were evicted from 475 hectares of land claim that local authorities conspired to sell the plot from under them. Saturday’s anniversary event was also used to petition the government to fulfill a 2010 promise to find new land for the families.

“I urge the Siem Reap provincial governor to give farmland to our victimized families,” Yi Savong, a leader of the community, said Sunday.

Buddhist monk Loun Sovath, who became a prominent human rights activist after two of his relatives were injured in the shooting, attended Saturday’s event along with several dozen other monks. He said that in addition to marking the anniversary of their eviction, the community held the demonstration in an attempt to get the attention of U.S. first lady Michelle Obama, who was in Siem Reap over the weekend.

“Our six-year anniversary ceremony was to express our land dispute victims’ opinions and alert Michelle Obama, the wife of U.S. President Barack Obama,” Loun Sovath said.

District governor Pov Bunthoeun said local authorities were still looking for new land for the families.

“We are working on this case for the Chi Kreng land dispute people, and sent a request to the Siem Reap provincial governor to get approval for a land concession for them, but we have not yet gotten a response from our government,” Mr. Bunthoeun said.

“It may take time because it is the Siem Reap provincial governor’s task.”

Siem Reap provincial governor Khim Bunsong could not be reached Sunday.

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