About 70 residents from Kandal province’s Ponhea Leu district were blocked on Saturday from marching to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s Phnom Penh villa, where they planned to appeal for support in a long-running land dispute.
The residents were representing 134 families from four villages in Chhvang commune and one village in Chrey Las commune who have been involved in a dispute with developers over 155 hectares of land since 2008.
Authorities blocked villagers as they approached the prime minister’s residence and were pushed back to Wat Botum park around midday, where Pal Chandara, a representative of Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet, collected the petition.
“The reason we came to submit the petition to Samdech Hun Sen is because we listened to the radio and heard he never received our previous petitions so we want him to see this one,” village representative Kuy Chanthan said Sunday, noting that this was the third time the villagers have passed along a petition.
Mr. Hun Sen last week blasted an unnamed NGO worker for saying on a Voice of America broadcast that the prime minister was unaware of land disputes across the country because he did not pay attention to the news.
Saturday’s protest came in advance of court appearances, scheduled for today and Tuesday, in which six families will be questioned for allegedly illegally selling land belonging to businesswoman Lim Kea.
Ms. Kea says she bought the land for $400 per hectare in 1997 before selling it on to wine company SKD for $800 per hectare. Mr. Hun Sen ordered the land to be returned to the villagers in 2008. But Ms. Kea says that because she had to compensate SKD following the order, she now owns of the land.
Mr. Chanthan, the villagers’ representative, said that although at one point a village chief promised them money for the land, they never sold it.
“It’s not true because we never sold the land where we live. We’ve been cultivating that land since 1982,” he said.