Protest Erupts in Troubled Preah Sihanouk Commune

2 min read
The office of the Preah Sihanouk police commissioner, in a photo posted to the police force’s Facebook page.
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Some 40 villagers blocked a national road in Preah Sihanouk this week, lighting smoking fires and wielding sticks in front of authorities in a land dispute in an area that has seen prior violence and conflicting claims among military and powerful individuals.

Officials were reluctant to elaborate on the details of the dispute, however, not naming the company involved and suggesting the protesters had dropped in from out of town.

Stung Hav district’s O’Oknha Heng commune has seen land grants pushing out scores of families, a military general and oknha investigated over a scuffle that saw gunshots and residents overturning a car, and recent corpses dug up around the commune.

Stung Hav district police chief Ourng Vuthy said around 45 people had blocked the road on Wednesday for about an hour in the late morning.

They were in the midst of a “misunderstanding with the company,” Vuthy said, but would not name the company or say what the dispute was about.

He said the protesters had violated the Traffic Law, and agreed to stop their action after talking to officers.

“They have a dispute with the company and they want a quick solution. The company’s land is in O’Okhna Heng commune,” he said.

In one video posted on Facebook, burning logs fill the air with smoke as authorities watch protesters wearing masks and holding wooden sticks.

O’Oknha Heng commune chief Kao Leng said the roadblock was near the local market.

He said the protesters were trying to steal land in the commune.

“They are not people from our commune. They’ve just come from another place to grab land in the commune. We don’t know where they come from because we don’t dare to go after them,” he said.

Commune police chief Touch Klouth gave a similar explanation.

“They are not from our commune but they are from the outside and they have disputes with the company.”

One previous disputant in the commune is Phoeun Phalla, a general in the notorious Brigade 70, an oknha tycoon and chairman of a real estate group. He was investigated by the military over a previous clash in O’Oknha Heng, while his wife, Say Sorphea, has received plots of privatized state land on Phnom Penh’s increasingly landfilled Boeng Tamok lake.

A previous commune police chief said in 2020 that around 100 families were being displaced in a dispute with powerful individuals, without naming them.

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