Two groups of protesters were stopped by Daun Penh security forces yesterday from handing over petitions to the Prime Minister, with one incident resulting in four injuries.
About 100 protesters representing 190 families from Koh Kong province’s Sre Ambel and Botum Sakor districts, who have been embroiled in land disputes involving the development of sugarcane plantations, attempted to march to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house yesterday morning seeking a resolution.
The group made it to Wat Langka before their plans were thwarted by Daun Penh and Chamkar Mon district security forces, who refused to let the group proceed towards the prime minister’s house.
A minor clash ensued, resulting in four people sustaining minor injuries.
Representative Phay Nherng, who suffered an injury to her arm, expressed regret over the security forces resorting to violence as her group was only hoping to have the prime minister intervene in their years-long land dispute.
“We asked the Ministry of Land when they will solve this problem for us. But the ministry always responds by requesting more time,” she said.
“We have nothing to eat and we keep waiting for a solution. It’s difficult and what hurts most is when we come and protest, government officials conspire to hide information from us and instead order Daun Penh and Chamkar Mon district security forces to attack us and drag us off.”
“We just want our land back. We didn’t want to leave, but then they began attacking us,” protester Nom Vannary said.
The families involved have been engaged in long-running land disputes with at least a dozen companies including Phnom Penh Sugar, Kampong Speu Sugar, Koh Kong Sugar Industry, Koh Kong Plantation, Chinese company HLH and Angkor Sugar.
An inter-ministerial working group and the EU had in the past gone to evaluate the impact of those companies on the villagers’ land to find a solution, but a document was still waiting for the prime minister’s signature.
Daun Penh security guard chief Kim Vutha insisted that while citizens had a right to protest, he would not allow them to march on the streets near the Independence Monument in a bid to protect the safety of the prime minister.
“The petition and their protest, that is their right, but they cannot just do whatever they want. They must listen to the local authority, especially when it comes to public order,” Mr. Vutha said.
“We cannot allow them to march along this street because we must also consider the safety of the prime minister’s house. We just asked them to keep their distance a bit, but they did not want that.”
Chairman of the Council of Ministers Pal Chandara eventually told the crowd that he would meet with the Land Minister to expedite the process today.
Another group of 50 people from the Boeung Kak community were also blocked from marching towards the Council of Ministers as they were attempting to hand over a petition asking Mr. Hun Sen to negotiate the release of land rights activist Tep Vanny.
The petition also urged authorities to stop prosecuting citizens involved in land disputes, to resolve all land disputes and to provide land titles to rightful owners.
“If there is no solution for land disputes in the Boeung Kak area then we will just keep advocating for it. Moreover, if Ms. Tep Vanny isn’t released we will continue to demand it and protest,” the community’s representative Bov Sophea said.
While the group was barred from marching towards the Council of Ministers, Mr. Hun Sen’s cabinet secretary Kong Chamroeun accepted the petition and said he would deliver it to the prime minister.
Ms. Vanny was sentenced in September to six months in jail for insulting and obstructing a public official during a protest in 2011.
Last month, the Supreme Court struck down a bail request by Ms. Vanny, who was also charged with intentional violence related to a protest outside the prime minister’s home in 2013.
NGOs and international rights groups have often criticized the government’s support for the Daun Penh district security force, calling it an “auxiliary security force” that is routinely used to “violently suppress demonstrations in Cambodia.”
Source: Khmer Times