Villagers Vow To Continue National Assembly Protest

More than a week after their arrival, Koh Kong province villagers camping opposite the Na­tional Assembly said Wednes­day that they are prepared to continue protesting over a land dispute involving a senior CPP official.

At a press conference Tuesday, villager representative An Haiya called on Prime Minister Hun Sen to return to them land that has been granted to CPP tycoon Sen­ator Ly Yong Phat.

“Samdech [Hun Sen] is our only hope for a solution,” said An Haiya of Chi Khor village in Sre Ambel dis­trict’s Chi Khor Loeu commune. Villagers and rights groups say farmlands in three villages have been bulldozed to make way for a 20,000-hectare sugarcane plantation.

“We will protest until we get a solution,” An Haiya said.

Ly Yong Phat could not be reached for comment. Koh Kong Provincial Governor Yuth Phout­hang, however, said last week that the villagers should have brought their complaints to local authorities instead.

Since arriving in Phnom Penh on March 6, the group has submitted complaints to the National Assembly, the Senate and the Interior Ministry, and has tried four times to leave copies at Hun Sen’s residences in the capital and in Kandal province. In the meantime, the group of 122 has dwindled to 57, Prum Khim said.

Sharing the park with them Wed­nesday were more than 200 stall vendors from Battambang town’s Boeng Chhouk market, who arrived in Phnom Penh Mon­day to protest an extra 10-percent tax on stall rent.

“If there is no solution, we will not return home,” said vendor Long Sokha.

Also in the park, villagers from Poipet commune’s Kbal Spean village in Banteay Meanchey pro­vince said they had traveled to Phnom Penh 10 times in order to protest the allegedly illegal seizure of 120 hectares by a senior government official in 1997. “We came here to protest. We want our land back,” said Val Sokhon, 31.

National Assembly President Heng Samrin said parliament could only direct protestors’ complaints to other authorities. “The Assembly can only help them submit their complaints,” he said.

Kek Galabru, president of the rights group Licadho, said Hun Sen’s March 5 declaration of “war” on land-grabbers had aroused protesters’ hopes. “This is their last resort,” she said.

“If they stay in the provinces, they think that nobody will pay attention to them.”

(Report­ing by Pin Sisovann, Thet Sambath and Douglas Gillison.)


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