Villagers walking from Battambang to Phnom Penh in a bid to plead with authorities in the capital to resolve their land dispute
In the past week the number of villagers coming to Phnom Penh to highlight land grievances shows the continuing dire situation of land-grabbing in Cambodia.
"People are still coming to Phnom Penh from all over the country, desperate for government officials to listen to their land problems and resolve them," said Kek Galabru, LICADHO's president. "This shows that land-grabbing is still rampant and that villagers are unable to get their grievances heard anywhere else."
Last week in just a short period of 48 hours, five groups of villagers from five provinces came to Phnom Penh because of unresolved land problems:
• More than 100 villagers from Ta Kaen commune, Chhuk district of Kampot, where 152 families are in danger of losing farmland to military soldiers who have been granted a social land concession in the area.
• About 20 villagers formerly living in Preah Vihear province and now in Kampong Cham. They were among 317 families violently evicted by police, soldiers and other authorities from land in Choam Ksan district, Preah Vihear, last November. Two unarmed villagers were shot dead during the eviction; no-one has been brought to justice for their killings. Six villagers arrested during the eviction remain detained, and another one imprisoned died last month.
• More than 70 villagers from several communities in Bavel and Koas Krolar districts of Battambang province. The villagers walked all the way to Phnom Penh from Battambang. They are from communities affected by two land disputes which district and provincial authorities have failed to resolve.
• About 25 people from Preah Netr Preah district, Banteay Meanchey province, representing 220 families whose farmland was sold by military officials to businesspeople.
• Three individuals representing 300 families in Stung Trang commune, Sala Krau district, Pailin, whose farmland is being taken by military soldiers. Attempts to resolve the dispute by Pailin municipal authorities have so far failed.
In this last case from Palin, in the far North West of Cambodia, 378 km from Phnom Penh, on 24 May 2008 police detained four community representatives accused of inciting other villagers to protest over their land dispute. The four were later released on the same day after they signed statements agreeing not to further incite the villagers. Three of the community representatives then traveled to Phnom Penh to lodge complaints at the National Assembly and other organizations, seeking a resolution to their land dispute.
The long standing land dispute involves land that was given to the villagers after its liberation from Khmer Rouge control in 1997. In 2006 ownership of the land was disputed by the commune and district authorities who sought to clear the land for development. Since 2006 the villagers have maintained their protests and have lodged complaints with the district and municipal authorities however bulldozers and concrete roads have continue to encroach onto their land.
On the morning of 24 May 2008, 30 police armed with rifles had attempted to stop the villagers from building houses on the disputed land. Pich Sothea, one of the community representatives had been filming the confrontation with police, as they moved to confiscate knives and axes from the villagers and pointed their guns at them. Pich Sothea captured the whole incident on video, however when he was detained by police they confiscated the camera, saying that it would only be returned after the land dispute was resolved.
LICADHO once more urges the government to declare a moratorium on evictions and to take firm action to discipline and prosecute State officials and other powerful individuals involved in land grabbing. In particular, we urge long-overdue measures to prevent and punish the widespread involvement of Royal Cambodian Armed Forces personnel in land grabbing and evictions of civilians.