PHNOM PENH —
Nearly 200 villagers from Kratie province gathered in Phnom Penh Monday, hoping to deliver a petition to the Cambodian Senate and other government agencies in protest of a rubber company’s development there.
The villagers, from Snoul district, say a Vietnamese rubber company began developing in the area in 2008, ultimately evicting some 400 families from their homes across more than 2,000 hectares of land.
At the Senate building on Monday, a group of villagers sat outside the gate in the sun, until an official there came out to accept the petition, asking them then to disperse.
“We are so poor,” 34-year-old Srun Srea, said, his T-shirt soaked in sweat. “We do not know where to live when our houses burn down. Please help us, prime minister.”
Ngoun Vibol, a respresentative of the villagers, said they have been involved in a land dispute with the company, Boeun Peuk II, since 2008. Some families have been forced out of their home by soldiers, and some houses have been razed by security forces, he said.
“They just burnt down my house,” 41-year-old Sim Navin said. “Now I have nowhere to go and live in. They say they will shoot me if I dare to live there again.”
Like many land disputes in Cambodia today, this one stems from a group of villagers occupying land that is then leased to a company for development. Rights workers say such disputes have affected hundreds of thousands of Cambodians over the years.
Chan Soveth, senior investigator for the rights group Adhoc, urged the government to conduct a thorough, transparent investigation into the alleged evictions.
“I don’t believe the people are wrong, nor do I believe the firm is right,” he said.
Am Sam Ath, chief investigator for the rights group Licadho, said the number of years spent on the land by the people, who have grown crops and rice, should be considered.
Meanwhile, Khan Chamnan, deputy provincial governor of Kratie, told VOA Khmer he has tried to educate the villagers that they had occupied land illegally. The land is protected state land, he said, and the land concession has already been dealt with.