About 70 families living in Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district protested outside their commune office Friday, accusing a businesswoman of attempting to bribe them to stop protesting over land they say she stole from them.
Villagers involved in the dispute with Lim Kea, who claims to have bought the contested 155-hectare plot of land in 1997, say the businesswoman showed up at a demonstration they staged in Phnom Penh on August 23 with gifts and a plea for cooperation.
Varn Vasnak, provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc in Kandal, said Ms. Kea arrived with packages for each protester that included 15 kg of rice, noodles, canned fish, bread, bottled water and about $50 in cash.
Mr. Vasnak said it was clear the donations were being given to bolster Ms. Kea’s request that the villagers stop protesting in the capital.
“If Ms. Lim Kea was [simply] being charitable, she probably would have been giving out donations since 2008, and not just when the villagers submitted their petition for Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene in their dispute,” he said.
Of the 134 villagers present at the August 23 protest, Mr. Vasnak said, 63 of them accepted the gift on behalf of their families, while another 71 refused them.
Koy Chanthorn, who did not accept the donations and was among those who protested at the Chhvang commune office Friday, said she refused the food and money on principle.
“We believe that if we accepted the donations, it would mean that we supported the person who tried to grab our land,” she said.
Ms. Kea said Sunday she was not trying to bribe the villagers who opposed her claim to the contested land, but merely providing aid to villagers who already support her.
“It is a reward for those who support me. If someone doesn’t support me, there’s no need to give them anything,” she said.