About 100 villagers from Svay Rieng province, hoping to get 1,500 hectares of land back from a state-owned rubber company, protested in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house before police forcibly bused them back home on Tuesday night.
Villagers, who said they represent 567 families from Romeas Hek district’s Tros commune, maintain that early this year the Peamcheang Rubber Plantation company bulldozed land villagers have farmed since 1996 without paying compensation.
“The land is important, without it, we don’t know where to live,” said villager Im Sem, 45, speaking Tuesday at the park in front of Wat Botum Votei pagoda, where he said villagers fled after police chased them from Hun Sen’s house.
Peamcheang Director-General Men Siphan denied any wrongdoing. He said the government gave him the land to expand the plantation from nearby Kompong Cham province as part of a government initiative to bolster and diversify employment in the area.
“I am not the land grabber. Authorities were the ones who cleared the way so that the rubber trees could be planted,” he said.
The company, he said, began in February to bulldoze the land, which he says the government allowed villagers to use only temporarily.
At around 7 pm Tuesday, dozens of police forced the villagers onto two big buses in front of the old National Assembly building. Police called out through a megaphone: “You must go back. We will give you rice and bread.” One woman who tried to disembark but was forcibly pushed back on the bus.
Local rights group Licadho issued a statement Wednesday condemning what it called an illegal and “violent abduction and deportation by authorities.”
“To beat and abduct people and forcibly take them back to their province in the middle of the night is appalling,” Licadho President Kek Galabru said in the statement.
Licadho claims that villagers were beaten and two were taken to a hospital unconscious.
Daun Penh District Deputy Governor Pich Socheata denied that police beat the villagers, adding that the protesters were not allowed to stay because “they affect the construction work of the new park that has to be finished before the water festival.”