Villagers Protest at Assembly Over Land Dispute

Residents of a Kompong Speu province village where hundreds of villagers kidnapped their commune chief over a land dispute in May turned up outside the Na­tion­al Assembly on Tuesday to assert their right to a disputed 0.8-hec­tare rice paddy plot.

The 71 villagers from Baset district left their homes at 1 am on Fri­­day and walked through jungles and over mountains in order to avoid authorities who they feared would tell them to return home, they said.

After staying at a pagoda in Phnom Penh since Friday, the vil­la­gers went to the Assembly on Tues­day to ap­­peal to Prime Minister Hun Sen, their provincial governor, parliamentarians and human rights wor­kers.

“It was very difficult to get here. We were walking in the jun­gle…. We tried to travel at night be­cause we knew we would be cracked down on if we were traveling on the road or in day time,” said villager Pok Duy, 29.

“Please Samdech Hun Sen, help find justice for people and help [us] get back one hectare of land confis­ca­­ted by the commune chief,” read one of the villagers’ placards.

“Innocent people are jailed,” ano­ther of the villagers’ posters said.

Hundreds of Trapeang Kak com­mune villagers held their com­mune chief, Meas Samon, hos­tage from May 4 to May 5 because of the 0.8 hec­­tares which both parties claim is rightfully theirs.

After police rescued Meas Sa­mon, more than 100 men from the vil­­lage fled to a nearby range of hills to avoid arrest.

Two of the villagers are currently detained over the land dispute, one for allegedly cutting a police of­­ficer with an ax during the rescue of Meas Samon, and the other for al­­le­ged­ly illegally occupying the land.

Meas Samon could not be contacted Tuesday.

“The land belongs to the villa­gers,” said Doung Nom, one of the vil­­lagers outside the National As­sembly. “We want this piece of rice paddy to benefit the poor people.”

Though the Assembly is currently on vacation, a staf­fer said that the villa­gers delivered a complaint to the human rights and complaints’ re­ception committee.

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