Kompong Chhnang provincial authorities allegedly locked villagers out of the provincial hall after dozens came to deliver a complaint against the wife of Mines and Energy Minister Suy Sem, before locking out a newly appointed councilor who left the building to talk with them.
The villagers from Ta Ches commune have been locked in a dispute with businesswoman Chea Kheng’s KDC company since 2007 over 145 hectares of land. A group of 40 of them gathered at the provincial hall on Monday to file a complaint while senior officials had gathered for the appointment of 15 recently elected provincial councilors, said villager representative Reach Seima.
“Our villagers peacefully assembled in front of the provincial hall, but the gate was then locked and more than 20 police and military police in the compound refused to unlock it for us, saying there was an order from their superiors,” he said.
Villagers—including those who already took money from the company last month—held banners calling for the provincial governor’s intervention into the ongoing dispute.
The newly elected CNRP provincial councilor, Duong Chantra, said he briefly left the ceremony to address the villagers after hearing them shout through a loudspeaker.
“I told villagers that I would help take three representatives to meet the governor and file the complaint when the official ceremony is finished,” he said.
After the ceremony finished, he returned to speak to them at which point “the police and guards also blocked me from entering the compound, even though I just received an official appointment for my position.”
According to Mr. Chantra, the remaining provincial officials all left by a back entrance in order to avoid crossing the villagers.
Neither Agricultural Minister Ouk Rabun, who presided over the ceremony, nor provincial governor Chhuon Chandoeun could be reached for comment.
Ta Ches commune police chief Chuop Chanthoeun confirmed that the villagers went to file a complaint but said he knew nothing about the lockdown.
“I don’t think it’s true,” he said. “They might have gone during lunch break when no one was at work.”