Phnom Penh, thousands march against illegal land seizure
The protesters came from the provinces of Koh Kong, Svay Rieng and Tbong Khmum. They blocked the access road to the land ministry and asked (in vain) for a meeting with the authorities. Behind the expropriations are businessmen linked to the ruling party or Chinese and Indian companies.
Phnom Penh (AsiaNews / Agencies) - About a thousand villagers from different provinces of Cambodia have gathered in Phnom Penh, blocking the road leading to the Land Ministry, to ask the government to resolve long-standing land disputes. They are arching against the (more or less legal) seizure of land by private companies or businessmen with important political ties and contacts.
Protesters from the provinces of Koh Kong, Svay Rieng and Tbong Khmum displayed placards and pictures with the faces of Prime Minister Hun Sen, his wife, King Sihamoni and the Queen Mother. They have appealed to the highest officials of the state in an attempt to settle the dispute. But their protest went unheard.
Yee Kunthea, representative of the coastal villagers of Koh Kong, reveals that his group has never received any compensation for land belonging to more than a thousand families and expropriated by a sugar cane company. The company belongs to Ly Yong Phat, senator of the ruling Cambodian People's Party (CPP), a businessman connected to him and a Chinese company, the Union Development Group (Udg). The demonstrators wanted to speak to the minister, but were forcibly driven out.
Khieu Sarun, spokesperson for the inhabitants of Svay Rieng, says she came to the capital with her fellow citizens because for over 20 years the local authorities have not been able to resolve a dispute that has arisen among 450 peasant families and an Indian company, the NK Venture. In recent years, the local administration has rejected any hypothesis of negotiations and repeatedly threatened the intervention of the security forces and the arrest of the families of the demonstrators.
A third group of demonstrators from the municipality of Trapeang Pring, in the province of Tbong Khmum, asks ministerial officials to resolve a dispute that has had them at loggerheads for years with the Chinese Hamenient Investment Company and to free two fellow citizens long in jail at the request of the village. Tha Lida, representing 42 families from the area, reports that the farmers never wanted to sell the land; however, local authorities tricked them into signing fake property transfer documents, selling off their only source of wealth and livelihood to private individuals.
From Cambodia to Vietnam, from Laos to various other countries in Southeast Asia, disputes surrounding the illegal expropriation of land are a common and widespread issue, a source of clashes and tensions. Entire plots are expropriated to encourage the construction of mega-projects (such as dams) or for extensive cultivation, most of the time without even compensating the minimum price for the loss of the crop, property and assets (farmhouses, agricultural equipment) connected.