About 200 villagers involved in land disputes in three provinces protested Monday outside Cambodia’s parliament building in Phnom Penh, demanding that lawmakers resolve their cases and threatening not to vote for those who turn down their requests.
The villagers from Sihanoukville, Svay Rieng, and Takeo provinces carried posters with details of the disputes they have had with land concession companies for years without resolution.
The villagers took turns telling lawmakers about their disputes and the negative impact the disagreements have had on their livelihoods.
Chhum Sat, a villager involved in a dispute with a Chinese land concession company, said she did not have any land to cultivate to make a living.
“I want the National Assembly [parliament] to help me get a land title,” she told RFA’s Khmer Service. “I am having a hard time in life. I am constantly afraid that I won’t have any place to live.”
About 200 other villagers from Svay Rieng province in southeast Cambodia were blocked from going to the National Assembly.
Following the protest, a lawmaker from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and one from the opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party (CNRP) came out of the building to accept the villagers’ petitions.
Lork Kheng, a lawmaker who accepted the documents on behalf of the CPP, said she would review the petitions, discuss them with fellow parliamentarians, and request recommendations from the National Assembly president for further intervention.
But she added that parliament could only try to influence the cases outside the court system.
“The National Assembly is not the court, so we can’t decide which party wins or loses,” she said. “We are working to reach a compromise on the cases as lawmakers.”
If parliament can't help
Theng Savoeun, a coordinator of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, said if parliament could not help the villagers, many of whom are farmers, they would stage a massive demonstration in Phnom Penh.
“We believe that if the lawmakers intervene in the cases, the authorities will resolve the issues,” he said.
The government of Prime Minister Hun Sen has taken away land from many Cambodians, which it then has granted as economic land concessions to domestic and foreign companies that want to build factories or plantations.
According to a February 2015 report by the London-based environmental group Global Witness, about 73 percent of Cambodia’s arable land has been leased to private companies in the form of economic land concessions, most of which were used for rubber plantations.
More than 770,000 Cambodians, or about 6 percent of the population, were adversely affected by land grabs between 2000 and 2013, the report said.
Reported by Prach Chev for RFA’s Khmer Service. Translated by Samean Yun. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.