Protesters Want Obama’s Support Over Evictions

About 100 residents embroiled in land disputes in Phnom Penh submitted a petition to the U.S. Embassy yesterday requesting that President Barack Obama raise the issue of evictions and reform of the country’s land concession policy when he visits Cambodia later this month.

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Anti-eviction activist Nget Khun, 72, waves an American flag on Norodom Boulevard yesterday as some 100 protesters marched to file a petition at the U.S. Embassy, requesting President Barack Obama help reform Cambodia’s land concession policy during his visit to Phnom Penh later this month. (Siv Channa)

The plea comes on the heels of a resolution passed by the European Parliament last month, which blamed economic land concessions licensed to agro-business companies for driving some 400,000 families off their land in the past 10 years.

“Our government has approved too many land concessions. I would like to appeal to Obama to come and inspect the situation and not just believe what government officials are telling him,” said Nget Khun, 72, who was one of the dozens of protesters from Phnom Penh’s Boeng Kak, Borei Keila and Thmar Kaul communities waving a large American flag outside the embassy.

After the group submitted the petition to the embassy, they marched toward the Royal Palace only to be blocked by a line of police on Norodom Boulevard.

As they stood in front of the authorities the protesters shouted, “We are living under the pressure of this government. Please, President Obama, help us.”

Mr. Obama is scheduled to visit Phnom Penh for the Asean and East Asia summits, which run concurrently between November 18 and 20.

Prior to yesterday’s protest, municipal officials had said the government planned to evict 182 families in Choam Chao commune’s Thmar Kaul village ahead of this month’s summits in order to improve security arrangements around Phnom Penh International Airport.

But Choam Chao deputy commune chief Var Sarang, who sits on a joint commission created to orchestrate the eviction, said yesterday that plans to evict residents before the summits would no longer go ahead.

“We do not have plans to remove people before the summits because we will just strengthen security inside the airport,” said Mr. Sarang, adding that he was unaware if the eviction would go ahead in the future.

“We’re just worried that one day we will wake up and they will be clearing our land and destroying our homes,” Nop Sarim, 41, a resident in Thmar Kaul village, said outside the U.S. Embassy.

Sean McIntosh, spokesman for the embassy, confirmed that the petition had been received.

“In general, we are concerned about land rights issues and closely monitor developments,” he said in an email.

“It is important for there to be a resolution of property disputes in an independent and transparent manner that is well-understood by the public, and treats all Cambodians equally and according to the rule of law.”

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