World Peace Day, Police Block Hundreds of Protesters

Prime Minister Hun Sen urged the country to commit to protecting peace as hundreds of land disputants protested in Phnom Penh on Monday, saying that while they remain marginalized, threatened and “in tears,” the people don’t have peace.

Land protesters from the provinces of Koh Kong, Preah Sihanouk, Svay Rieng and Tbong Khmum blocked traffic in front of the Land Management Ministry for at least 20 minutes, with reporters estimating that as many as 1,100 people participated in the demonstration.

About 50 police officers and district security guards prevented the protesters from entering the ministry’s compound, and pushed them to the opposite side of the road. The protesters were later blocked from marching to Hun Sen’s house.

Sam Chamnan, from Tbong Khmum, said people in his village had lost community land to Harmony Win Investment over the past decade. Men Davy, from Svay Rieng, said she represented 152 families locked in a dispute with a Chinese company since 2014. Kan Chhorn, from Koh Kong, said his Sre Ambel district villagers had no land left to farm after 10 years fighting with a sugar plantation.

The villagers chose the International Day of Peace to protest so the government could finally fulfill its promise to bring peace to the country by resolving their disputes, Chamnan said.

But rather than peace, land protesters had been experiencing only arrests and threats, he said. “We have no rights,” Chamnan added.

Davy said it was time for the government to act rather than simply repeat the word “peace.”

“Today, I think Samdech will find a solution for people, in order to make our country have peace as it was promised,” she said, using an honorific for Hun Sen. “We think there’s no peace. There is only peace in their mouths because people are still in tears in all the provinces.” ​

Chhorn said he didn’t want to have to protest. “I am poor. … If I were rich, I wouldn’t come,” he said. “I’m a farmer but I don’t have the land to grow crops.”

City Hall spokesperson Met Measpheakdey said authorities had prevented people from marching to maintain public order and avoid traffic jams.

“They shouldn’t need to gather and disrupt public order” if the aim was simply to submit petitions, he said.

Meanwhile, to mark the International Day of Peace, Hun Sen recalled the country’s past struggles and said only peace could be the foundation for development.

“If we lose peace, we will lose everything. … Commit strongly to protecting the peace that we’ve just achieved,” he said in a letter issued on Saturday. “Endure, be strong and remain intact forever. Do not allow any reactionary force to destroy it at any cost.”

Acknowledging the economic challenges of the Covid-19 pandemic, Hun Sen said his two priorities were maintaining stability in politics and the microfinance sector.

The country’s microfinance debt hit $7.3 billion in June to more than 2 million borrowers, according to the Cambodia Microfinance Association, with an average microloan size of $3,804 that researchers have said is the highest in the world.

“The great achievements that Cambodia has achieved have never been applauded or praised by some superpowers and Western countries, which have a specific agenda to use Cambodia as a stepping stone to serve their political ambitions,” Hun Sen continued in his letter.

In a statement issued on Monday while protests were ongoing, the Land Management Ministry said about 800 disputants from Koh Kong had no legal basis for their complaints, rejecting their petition for intervention in disputes with sugar plantations Heng Huy, Koh Kong Plantation and Koh Kong Sugar Industry as well as Chinese-owned tourism resort Union Development Group.

UDG — a massive, $3.8-billion development that spans 45,000 hectares and 20 per cent of Cambodia’s coastline — was sanctioned by the U.S. last week over alleged human rights abuses and forced evictions, following accusations that it could be turned into a Chinese military base.

Ministry refuses petition as 1,000 protests over land disputes

Officials at the Land Management Ministry declined to accept a petition from nearly 1,000 protesters who had gathered outside the building on September 21 to demand a resolution to their long-running land disputes in several provinces. 

The villagers from Koh Kong, Tbong Khmum and Svay Rieng provinces were demonstrating to mark the United Nations’ International Day of Peace, representing more than 7,000 families embroiled in conflicts over a total of more than 12,000 hectares of land.

However, Land Management Ministry representatives declined to meet the protesters, saying all of their disputes had already been settled. 
After Land Management Minister Chea Sophara and other officials failed to meet the group or accept their petition, hundreds of the land dispute victims briefly blocked Monivong Boulevard just before 10:30am. Minutes later, riot police forced them onto the sidewalks and side streets to prevent traffic jams. 

“According to the calendar, today is International Day of Peace, and for the whole of Cambodia it should be a day of peace and independence but we see that today there is no peace for those of us who are victimized,” said Yi Kunthea, 35, a protester who is involved in a land dispute with Koh Koh Sugar company in Botum Sakor district.

“We are the victims, that’s why we have come here,” she said. “But they did not come out to take our petition and they used police forces to harm villagers.”

Meanwhile, on September 20 at about 10pm, authorities in Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel district stopped 12 minivans end route to Phnom Penh on National Road 48 in an attempt to prevent passengers from attending the protest, according to villagers.

One protester, Koy Yoeun, said that police had stopped her vehicle at about 10:30pm, only allowing the group to proceed at around 1am after checking driver’s licenses and registration documents.

She said that police had counted the number of passengers in the minivan and taken a picture of the license plate before allowing the group to travel to Phnom Penh.

“They had intended to prevent us,” Yoeun said.

“It is a violation of our rights because we have just come to show that our land has been lost,” she said.

Yoeun said she has been caught up in land dispute with tycoon Ly Yong Phat’s company Koh Kong Sugar since 2006, and lost 3 hectares of land in Botum Sakor’s Kandorl commune. 

She said she has faced many challenges, including threats of imprisonment from local authorities when a group of families had submitted a complaint to the provincial hall demanding their land be returned.

“I am not afraid, because we have already lost our land,” she said.

Minister Chea Sophara and ministry spokesman Seng Lout could not be reached for comment.

In a statement issued the same day, the ministry said it had already resolved the four major land disputes between demonstrators and agricultural companies Heng Huy Agriculture Group, Koh Kong Sugar Plantation, Koh Kong Sugar Industry and Union Development Group. Nearly 800 more families had also made requests for social land concessions.

“To solve the demands of the five groups above, there are no legal instruments for the ministry to find a better resolution,” it said.

Sok Sothy Koh Kong provincial deputy governor and spokesman said that all land disputes with Koh Kong Sugar Plantation had been resolved since 2018, noting that a new group of villagers had started protesting recently with their own political agenda supporting the former opposition CNRP.

“The new group who has gone to protest in [Phnom Penh] said that they have no solution yet, but they are backed by a politician,” he said.

“They do not have a land dispute, so they came to protest following a political agenda,” Sothy added.

He explained that the 760 families who were involved in the dispute with Koh Kong Sugar Plantation had received 2 to 3 hectares of land and financial compensation of $1,500 to $3,000, while 197 families who had overlapping land claims with Heng Huy Company had also received settlements.

Soeng Senkaruna, senior investigator at rights group Adhoc, said that Land Management officials should have met with the protesters to accept their petition out of respect for their freedom of assembly.

“I think that the authorities should reconsider all of the problems if there is still no resolution that villagers can accept,” he said. “We are concerned that there is a lack of land for villagers to cultivate to support their livelihood.”

Chak Sopheap, executive director of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said the government should work on solving villagers’ land issues instead of attempting to stop their protests.

“While the legitimate and peaceful exercise of the freedoms of expression and assembly should be encouraged by the RGC rather than hindered, it should be noted that protests such as the one witnessed on 21 September 2020, would not be necessary if the land rights of Cambodians were adequately respected and protected by the RGC and third parties,” she said in an email. “The RGC needs to address land disputes by preventing future disputes, but also the timely and fair resolution of ongoing disputes.”

Hundreds of Cambodian Villagers Displaced by Land Grabs Protest in Phnom Penh

Around 1,000 villagers from three Cambodian provinces blocked the road leading to the Land Ministry in Phnom Penh on Monday to demand government help in resolving disputes over land taken by private companies and politically connected businesspeople, sources in the country said.

Protesters from Koh Kong, Svay Rieng, and Tbong Khmum provinces held up photos of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, and Cambodian King Sihamoni and the Queen Mother, as they launched their appeal, but were refused assistance by Ministry officials and left at the end of the day with no promises of help.

Yee Kunthea, a representative of dispossessed villagers in coastal Cambodia’s Koh Kong, said her group had never received compensation for farmland that over 1,000 families in three districts had lost to a sugarcane company owned by Ly Yong Phat, a senator belonging to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP), to another company owned by businessman Heng Huy, and to Chinese company the Union Development Group (UDG).

The group had traveled to the capital hoping to appeal in person at the Ministry, but had been violently pushed away from the building by security forces, Yee Kunthea said, adding, “We wanted to meet with His Excellency Chea Sophara, the Minister of Land, but no one came down from the Ministry except for the police.”

“The Ministry workers opened their windows to watch us blocking the road. And then they promised they would let me enter the Ministry at 2:00 p.m.,” she continued, adding that the Ministry then released a press statement later that afternoon saying there were no legal grounds for the department to intervene in the dispute.

Khieu Sarun, a representative of villagers from Svay Rieng, said that she and her group had come to protest at the capital because local authorities had failed for nearly 20 years to resolve a land dispute in her province between almost 450 farm families and an Indian company called NK Venture.

Authorities had also threatened dispossessed families, telling them they would be arrested if they tried to return to their former homes and land, she said.

“We’re appealing for justice for our farmers,” Khieu Sarun said.

“The authorities have protected this foreign company and allowed them to do to us whatever they want to do, while we—the landowners—have no rights at all to our land. We are constantly faced with threats and arrests,” she said.

“I understand that everybody wants so-called development [in Cambodia], but please also look at the people’s situation too. If development only causes misery, we don’t need it.”

Tricked into signing away their land 

Another group of protesters, from the Trapeang Pring commune in Tbong Khmum, urged the Ministry to come to their commune to solve their years-long dispute with the Chinese Hamenient Investment Company and help free two of their jailed commune members.

Tha Lida, a representative of 42 families in the commune, said their villagers had never wanted to sell their land to the Chinese company, but that local authorities had tricked them into signing with their thumb-prints faked documents allowing the company to buy the land needed by residents for their survival.

The Ministry of Land should now investigate the case to see if the Chinese company used proper documents when it “bought the land” from the people, as the local authorities claimed, he said, adding, “I request the government to encourage the subnational authorities to reinvestigate this land dispute in order to discover the truth.”

Attempts to reach Land Ministry spokesperson Seng Loth for comment were unsuccessful on Monday

Am Sam Ath, deputy chief of the Cambodian rights group Licadho, said however that the Land Ministry has already solved many cases of land disputes, and should use the same mechanisms to solve the country’s remaining problems in transparent and nonviolent ways.

“I think the Ministry should find out the root causes of these problems, and then the solution to these chronic problems should be found. If we do not handle these problems properly, there will be even more complications resulting from this crisis,” he said.

A key source of social tension in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries is the widespread practice of land grabs in which authorities seize land from people for development projects or foreign invested enterprises without paying them fair compensation for lost crops, property, and livelihoods.

Cambodian Villagers Block Digging Work by Chinese Company

More than 100 villagers in eastern Cambodia’s Tbong Khmum province on Monday blocked Chinese earthmovers digging a canal and destroying crops on disputed land, temporarily halting the work, local sources said.

Hamenivent Investment, a Chinese company that claims ownership of the land, had already cleared over 20 hectares of cassava and cashew farmland worked by residents of Dambe district’s Trapaing Pring commune, a resident of the commune’s Bos Snor village told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“This has interfered with villagers’ farming, and that’s why they have come to stop this company from clearing their crops,” the resident named Maut Mon said, adding that Hamenivent has also encroached on flooded forest land used by the commune as a shelter for spawning fish.

“”We want to the Chinese side to sign an agreement that they won’t come in here to continue clearing, as we are concerned for the loss of the lake and the fish in the shelter,” Maut Mon said.

Also speaking to RFA, Hoeun Sineath—a resident of neighboring Sre Praing village—said that the commune’s forest was registered for protection as a conservation area in 2002 by Cambodia’s Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries.

“The area is a flooded forest. It is a shelter for fish to lay eggs, and many wild animals used to live there, but there are many fewer there now,” he said, adding that China’s Hamenivent company, which has now cleared his farm and the farms of 21 other families in the village, has no legal right to the land.

'Don't go in there'

Representatives of Hamenivent Investment were unavailable for comment on Monday, but Dambe district governor Sok Sarith told RFA that the Chinese company now owns the disputed land, and that local villagers have been farming on company property.

“This land is not a communal forest or a fish shelter. It is the legal property of the Chinese company, and that company has the full right to work on that land within the limits of the law,” he said.

“Our authorities have always told people in the past, ‘Don’t go in there.’ But some people still continued to farm on that land,” he said.

However, villagers believe that local authorities had illegally conspired to sell a large part of the forest to Hamenivent and had arranged for the Chinese company to be issued with a land title proving ownership, village sources said.

Speaking to RFA, Leng Senghan—provincial coordinator for the Cambodian rights group Adhoc—said that Hamenivent’s destruction of crops and digging a canal to block famers’ access to their fields was in any case against the law.

“If we consider the view of the law, this was totally illegal, because these were actions that destroyed people’s property. And when you dig a canal to cut off a road, this destroys the property of the state,” he said.

Respect and protect the Mekong people’s rights to land and resources

A call for support by MEKONG SOLIDARITY
ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN People’s Forum, September 2019For many rural communities in the Mekong sub-region as in elsewhere, land is life. Direct access to and effective control over land and all resources tied to land is indispensable in ensuring the people’s rights to livelihood and food sovereignty as well as to culture, way of life and self-determination. But such access and control by farming and indigenous communities in the Mekong sub-region face mounting pressure from big private investments, both foreign and local, and from so-called development projects, mostly funded by foreign debt.

Threats of and actual displacements of rural communities in the Mekong have been on the rise amid increasing land deals for corporate plantations, mining, logging, biofuels, food crops for exports, etc. Based on data generated from the Land Matrix online database, there are more than 420 concluded land deals in the Mekong covering almost 4.5 million hectares (or more than 11 million acres) as of today. In countries like Cambodia and Laos, these corporate land deals comprise more than a third of their total agricultural lands.
China’s role is prominent in these land deals in the Mekong. Based on Land Matrix data, China has concluded land deals in Myanmar covering more than 855,000 hectares (or more than 2 million acres); Laos, almost 291,000 hectares (or more than 719,000 acres); Cambodia, almost 253,000 hectares (or more than 625,000 acres); and Vietnam, more than 66,000 hectares (or more than 163,000 acres). These land deals entail a transfer of rights to use, control or ownership of land through lease or concession deals from farmers and indigenous peoples to corporations, including foreign interests. As a consequence, affected Mekong communities lose access to and control over their own agricultural and ancestral lands and resources.
Along with these land leases and concessions, China has been on an aggressive campaign in recent years to expand and consolidate its global political and economic presence and clout through the trillion-US dollar Belt and Road Initiative (BRI) and the Lancang-Mekong Cooperation (LMC). Many key LMC projects including mega hydropower dams; railways and roads stretching thousands of kilometers; and vast industrial parks and economic zones, etc. are part of the BRI and funded by Chinese money through the Silk Road Fund or the Asian Infrastructure Investment Bank (AIIB).
These huge infrastructure projects have enormous implications on the life and livelihood of millions of rural people in the Mekong sub-region. The massive dams alone that China as well as other foreign interests are funding and building along the Mekong River pose serious harm to fishing and farming communities in the sub-region, including on fish stocks, river flow and soil fertility, on top of physically displacing tens of thousands of farmers and indigenous peoples.

Worse, people’s organizations and civil society groups working on land issues and communities resisting land and resource grabbing in the Mekong sub-region face various forms of human rights violations. These include harassment through trumped-up charges and criminalization of people’s resistance; surveillance; and restricting public assembly, among others. While land deals, investments and projects are expanding, the democratic space for civil society engagement and community mobilizations are shrinking more and more.
We reaffirm our assertion that the people’s rights to land and resources of the rural communities in the Mekong must be respected and protected, and that all forms of state repression on civil society and communities resisting land and resource grabbing must be stopped.

We reiterate our demand to stop all destructive infrastructure projects, investments, land concessions and other deals that harm the collective interests and welfare of the indigenous peoples, farmers and other small food producers in the Mekong.

No Land, No Life! Fight for our Rights to Land and Resources!
We call on our fellow advocates of and campaigners for people’s rights to land and resources and food sovereignty who are participating at the 2019 ASEAN Civil Society Conference (ACSC) and the ASEAN People’s Forum (APF) to support our calls by endorsing this statement.

(MEKONG SOLIDARITY is a platform for cooperation and coordination on issues related to land and human rights in the Mekong sub-region. It was established by 21 national and local organizations based in the five Mekong countries – Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam – and supported by global and regional networks PAN Asia Pacific, Asian Peasant Coalition and People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty. For inquiries,

please contact [email protected] and [email protected])
This statement is endorsed by the following organizations and networks:

• AID Watch (Australia)

• Alternate ASEAN Network on Burma

• Asian Migrants Coordinating Body (Hong Kong)

• Cambodian Food and Service Workers Federation (Cambodia)

• Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee (Cambodia)

• Cambodian Volunteers for Society (Cambodia)

• Cambodia Youth Network (Cambodia)

• Center for Environmental Concerns (Philippines)

• Center for Human Rights (Mongolia)

• Center for Sustainable Rural Development (Vietnam)

• Centre for Community Economics and Development Consultants Society (India)

• Centre for Research and Advocacy (Manipur)

• Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (Cambodia)

• Committee for Free and Fair Election in Cambodia (Cambodia)

• Ecumenical Institute for Labor Education and Research (Philippines)

• Ethnic Concern (Myanmar)

• Forum of Women NGOs (Kyrgystan)

• Farmer Affairs Network (Myanmar)

• Harmony Youth Association, Burma

• Institute for Motivating Self-Employment (India)

• Khmer Kampuchea Krom for Human Rights and Development Association (Cambodia)

• Nagkahiusang Mamumuo sa Suayapa Farm - NAFLU - KMU (Philippines)

• Ponlok Khmer (Cambodia)

• Rural Women's Association (Kyrgyztan)

• Solidarity for Indigenous Papuans (West Papua)

• Southern Peasants Federation of Thailand (Thailand)

• VOICE Bangladesh

• Youth Resource Development Program (Cambodia)

Regional

• Asian Peasant Coalition (APC)

• PAN Asia Pacific (PANAP)

• Asia Pacific Research Network (APRN)
Global:

• People’s Coalition on Food Sovereignty (PCFS) • International Indigenous People’s Movement for Self Determination and Liberation (IPMSDL)

Ministry seeks ringleaders behind dispute protests

The Ministry of Land Management has asked authorities to search for the ringleaders who incited people in Tboung Khmum province’s Dambae district to join a protest over land which villagers had already sold to others.

The request was made after hundreds of people on Monday held a protest near Wat Botum pagoda in Phnom Penh.

The protesters gathered at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet office in order to resolve the land disputes and prosecution of some activists.

According to the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, about 700 people representing about 7,615 families descended upon the government office to demand intervention.

It said the families hailed from the provinces of Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Svay Rieng, Tboung Khmum and Kandal, adding that the disputes are over a total of 16,279.64 hectares in the five provinces.

Referring specifically to the dispute in Tboung Khmum and not the other provinces, the ministry in a press statement on Monday evening said that some people claiming to represent 676 families in seven communities in Dambe district’s Trapaing Pring commune had filed a complaint to demand 3,718 hectares of community forest land.

It said the dispute involved land which villagers, village and commune authorities had sold some of off since 2011 to a private company Harmony Win Investment Co Ltd; other parts of the land were given to villagers.

“The Ministry of Land Management cannot accept the demand to resolve this issue and asks the authorities to search for and take action against the ringleaders who incited people to join the protest,” the statement said.

Sem San, a representative of villagers in Dambae district, yesterday said that they could not accept the ministry’s decision not to resolve the issue. He claimed that the villagers did not sell the land to the company as stated by the ministry.

“People do not have the right to sell the land because it is state land,” Mr San said. “So if the company has the right to go and do something on it, the people also have the right to cultivate on the land.”

“Our citizens will prepare documents to go to Phnom Penh again soon to meet with the Ministry of Land Management officials and ask them to show evidence that the people had agreed to sell the land to the company, and also how many hectares the company owns,” he added.

Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Lot could not be reached for comment yesterday.

According to a press release from the Land Management Ministry on “Land Work Progress” published last month, the ministry and the National Authority of Land Management Commission received 11,994 land dispute cases submitted by citizens by the end of May.

It said that the ministry solved 9,871 of the land dispute cases, while 2,123 are still being resolved.

Land protesters gather in capital

Hundreds of people representing thousands of families in five provinces gathered at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet office yesterday in order to resolve land disputes, including the prosecution of some activists.

According to the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, about 700 people representing about 7,615 families descended upon the government office to demand intervention.

It said the families hailed from the provinces of Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Svay Rieng, Tboung Khmum and Kandal, adding that the disputes are over a total of 16,279.64 hectares in the five provinces.

Yu Veasna, a representative of families in Preah Sihanouk, said 11 communities have been embroiled in land disputes with tycoons and land dealers for more than a decade. Mr Veasna said there has been no solution from the government.

“We have waited for a resolution for a long time, but we’ve had no information so far,” he said. “We can’t bear this any more, so we came to submit a petition again to ask [the government]to help resolve the problem as soon as possible because we want to have a life and a suitable home to live in like other citizens.”

Oeung Sary, a representative from Kandal, said 14 families are in dispute with Heng Development Company and that the authorities have yet to hold negotiations for compensation, while the company continues to measure, reclaim and develop areas for a new airport.

“We would like to ask Samdech Techo Hun Sen and the Ministry of Land Management to please help urge provincial authorities to accelerate a resolution because people are concerned about losing their land,” Ms Sary said. “The company came to fill the land and remove poles. The people are afraid of losing their land.”

Additionally, 200 people from Tboung Khmum province were blocked from attending the gathering by the authorities in Chroy Changva district.

Additionally, 200 people from Tboung Khmum province were blocked from attending the gathering by the authorities in Chroy Changva district.

Sem San, a representative, said they were riding on seven trucks when they were stopped.

សកម្មភាពប្រជាពលរដ្ឋដាក់ញាត្តិទាមទារដំណោះស្រាយដីធ្លី

Mr San said citizens in Tboung Khmum’s Dambe and Memot districts have been having a land dispute with private companies since 2011.

He said his group previously submitted petitions at ministries, the National Assembly and the prime minister’s cabinet office, but no resolution was provided.

“Some of the disputed land are communal land that have been recognised by the government since 2004,” Mr San said. “But, a Chinese company came, cleared and developed the area, which caused people to have no land for cultivation.”

“Last month, the provincial court issued summonses for 11 people to be questioned,” he added. “That’s why we wanted to come so we can ask Samdech Techo Hun Sen to help push for a resolution and ask for the court not to sue the people.”

Kong Chamroeun, a representative of the prime minister’s cabinet, yesterday said he accepted the petitions submitted by the people, and that the petitions will be handed to other officials for verification.

“We have already received all of their petitions and we have sent those documents to the Ministry of Land Management, which specialises in reviewing and resolving [problems],” Mr Chamroeun said.

After their submissions were received, the group started to make their way to the Land Management Ministry. However, they were blocked by municipal authorities from proceeding.

Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Lot could not be reached for comment yesterday.

The group said yesterday that even though they were blocked from proceeding, ministry officials met them near Wat Botum pagoda to receive their petitions.

No land No Life

Hundreds protest over land rows

More than 300 residents from five provinces gathered in front of the Botum Vatey Pagoda in Phnom Penh on Monday before marching to government institutions to submit petitions demanding that Prime Minister Hun Sen intervene in their long-running land disputes.

The protests began at 7am with some people gathering under a banyan tree, while others took their place near a park fence.

Divided into groups of different communities, some shouted and held up banners to demand a settlement to their disputes.

A civil society organisation which recorded resident numbers said they had come from 30 communities in Kampong Speu, Kandal, Preah Sihanouk, Svay Rieng and Tbong Khmum provinces.

The organisation said the protesters represented 7,615 families involved in disputes over 16,279.64ha of land.

They were in conflict with private companies, powerful individuals and traders in development schemes such as economic land concessions – and involving irrigation systems and social land concessions, the organisation said.

A protester in her late 30s from Svay Rieng province, Khiech Saron, told The Post that they had sought intervention and submitted petitions to several relevant institutions many times before. She said the different groups coming at the same time was by “accident”.

Even though they had come from different places, Saron said, their issues all related to falling victim to the loss of land.

She expected that the government would intervene this time so they could finally resume cultivating crops to improve their living standards.

“Our dispute with NK Ventures started in 2010 and affects more than 440 families on 670ha of land and there are other communities in Svay Rieng affected by other companies.

“It’s been almost 10 years. The government officials sleep in air-conditioned houses and I don’t think they know how much we are suffering,” Saron said.

Another resident, Sem Sang from Tbong Khmum province, said his dispute had been going on for 15 years, while other residents had also been in conflict with powerful and wealthy individuals for years.

He said seeking intervention seemed hopeless because almost none of the institutions seemed to have a solution. “The powerful and wealthy continue to live a comfortable life and ignore the hardships of impoverished residents like us.

“We want Samdech [Hun Sen] to help settle the disputes with the rich and Oknhas in Dambe district. They encroached on 500ha of land and it’s not been settled since 2004. I don’t have any faith because we’ve come many times. Our rights are being denied,” he said.

Despite the peaceful nature of the gathering – with protesters shouting through megaphones while walking from the pagoda to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction and the National Assembly – they were halted by the authorities as they were allegedly affecting public order.

Kong Chamroeun, a member of Hun Sen’s cabinet who received the petitions, said that to protect public order, the authorities invited community representatives to submit the petitions on behalf of the protesters.

But he said they insisted on marching together to submit the petitions, so the authorities were forced to halt them.

“They claimed to have long-running disputes, but we don’t know whether it’s true. When they come to submit petitions, it’s like they’re coming to sing,” he said.

Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community director Theng Savoeun said if the government truly wanted to settle the disputes, the issues would have been solved long ago.

“The disputes have lasted so long because the authorities had delayed in solving them. The national and provincial levels don’t seem to have the will to solve them decisively.

“We want the issues to be solved soon because we don’t want the residents to have to keep coming to Phnom Penh – and if it remains drawn-out, their protests could escalate. They have no land to cultivate their crops and they have no choice but to move,” he said.

Villagers appeal for road access to disputed land

More than 100 families in Preah Sihanouk province’s Tracheak Chet and Bat Khteah communities gathered on Monday to submit a petition asking the Prey Nop district administration to order the Thansuor Chamkat company to open an access road for them to transport their crops through disputed land.

You Veasna, the villagers’ representative, told The Post on Monday that the dispute has been unresolved since 2011.

He said the villagers gathered at the Preah Sang Doek Dai Khmeng roundabout on National Road 4, about 2km from the Prey Nop District Hall, before marching to the hall to deliver their petition.

“The district authority accepted our petition but said it was beyond their jurisdiction. The villagers were told to request a form and have it recognised by village and commune chiefs and the district administration and then send it to Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall,” Veasna said.

He said he will prepare a document in the next two or three days.

“More than 60 families in Tracheak Chet community have more than 303ha of land whose ownership has not been resolved, while Bat Khteah community has more than 40 families with more than 250ha of land.

“The company has encroached on the land without a licence or ministry recognition,” Veasna said.

Prey Nop district deputy director Khorn Morn, who met with the villagers, told The Post on Monday that they had submitted petitions to the Provincial Hall, the National Assembly and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.

“Their petition only covers one subject – a request to open the road to provide access to their land."

“But with regard to their land, they had already submitted petitions to the National Assembly and the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction. Pending that result, the matter is beyond the district’s authority,” Morn said.

Samrung commune chief Kuoy Saran said he knew some of the elderly villagers but not the younger people, as they had only come to live in the area about a year ago.

“I only know the old people. As for the younger people, I don’t know. They just recently came to live here and find land. Some people came about a year ago. I know about 30 per cent of them,” he said.

Land resolution issues raised during workshop

Representatives of nearly 50 communities across nine provinces and the capital yesterday during a workshop expressed disappointment over the government’s handling of land disputes.

The Land Issues and Community Advocacy workshop, held in Phnom Penh, was organised by the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, and the Sahmakum Teang Tnaut and Punlok Khmer organisations in order to share experiences in solving land disputes and the impact they have on communities.

Yous Sophorn, whose community in Svay Rieng province has been embroiled in a land dispute with the Water Resources Ministry, said 120 families have been affected ever since the ministry in 2009 began building a reservoir without compensating residents.

Ms Sophorn said multiple petitions were submitted to various local and national authorities for intervention.

“We have no land for farming, people lack food to eat and they have no money,” she said. “In the past, we were able to grow rice and make a profit, but now we do not have enough to eat.”

“We would like to request Prime Minister Hun Sen to help expedite a resolution,” Ms Sophorn added. “Please help the people who are poor and in need in this community.”

Sing Seth, a representative of a Kuoy indigenous community in Preah Vihear province, said families in the community have been locked in land disputes with the Lan Feng and Rui Feng companies since 2012.

Ms Seth said authorities claimed that the disputes were resolved, but noted that the companies continue to clear farmland.

“The government, please measure and register our collective land as soon as possible,” she said. “Please help us to stop all the land clearing activities by the Chinese companies.”

During the workshop, other community representatives took the stage to appeal to the government to resolve their respective land disputes. Representatives who spoke noted that some communities have locked in disputes for more than a decade.

Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, said more than 20,000 families have been affected due to three major factors: Companies being granted Economic Land Concessions by the government, an increase in prices of land, and conspiracy between local officials to resell confiscated land.

“We want the government, relevant institutions, civil society organisations and communities to work together to solve land issues,” Mr Savoeun said. “There has to be good governance, transparency and the will to improve the livelihoods of people.”

Land Management Ministry spokesman Seng Lot could not be reached for comment yesterday.