Villagers Seek Refuge in Phnom Penh Pagoda Again

About 160 villagers from Kratie province’s Snuol district embroiled in a land dispute with a plantation owner are the latest evictees to take residence in Phnom Penh’s Samakki Raingsey pagoda.

A spokesman for City Hall, which has made repeated efforts in recent months to prevent the pagoda from becoming a shelter for provincial protesters in the capital, said Thursday authorities will request the villagers to leave.

Some 100 villagers arrived at the pagoda Thursday morning followed by two trucks carrying another 64 people in the afternoon after Kong Chamroeun, a secretary in the prime minister’s cabinet, accepted a petition in Phnom Penh’s Wat Botum Park requesting assistance in the dispute on Wednesday.

“I will stay here until Samdech Hen Sen issues a letter to order provincial authorities to give us our land back,” said 66-year-old villager Uth Seanghai Thursday, adding that more villagers plan to arrive from Snuol district today.

City Hall spokesman Long Dimanche said authorities would not tolerate villagers staying at the pagoda.

“We will send our officials to look and if we see people staying there we will request they return home because we don’t want a small case getting bigger,” he said.

The villagers, who claim to have started moving onto the Snuol commune land in 2000, are locked in a dispute with the Horizon Agriculture Department, which purchased the land in 2010 for cassava and pepper plantations after the Growest Trading Co. had cleared 1,562 hectares of land two years earlier.

This is the second case this year of villagers from Snuol district taking refuge in Wat Samakki Raingsey. In May, farmers in a land dispute with a rubber company ignored repeated requests by authorities to leave the pagoda before accepting a 750-hectare social concession.

“We are worried about the authorities but we haven’t committed any wrongdoing,” said the pagoda’s deputy abbot Thach Ha Sam Ang Thursday.

“This is a pagoda and we help poor people when they need it.”

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