Village Demands Return of Chief Who Joined Angkor Protest

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A development plan for Siem Reap’s Run Ta Ek commune, a designated resettlement site for Angkor evictees, on October 8, 2022. (Hean Rangsey/VOD)

Siem Reap residents are collecting hundreds of thumbprints for the reinstatement of a village chief who was fired for joining a protest against the resettlement of Angkor evictees.

Last week, around 200 protesters set up tents at Run Ta Ek, a resettlement site for some of about 10,000 families targeted for displacement from the Angkor Archaeological Park. The protesters used to have farms on the resettlement site, and say they don’t want it handed to other people.

Penh Pren, a village chief in Prasat Bakorng district’s Balaing commune, joined the protest with the village residents, and was quickly removed from his position last week.

Protester Hun Von said the residents of Snar Sangkream village had already collected and submitted one petition of 130 thumbprints to the commune office seeking Pren’s return, and were now in the process of collecting more signatures for a new petition to raise the issue to the district level.

“He is a good person and he should not have been removed. He tried to protect the interests of the people,” Von said, adding that the commune had rejected their first petition.

Thai Maorm, another Snar Sangkream village resident, said she had signed the commune petition as she wanted Pren to return.

“He worked and served the people well. … When people had difficulties, he always helped them all, but the superiors in turn removed him,” Maorm said.

“He tried hard to find a solution for people,” added another resident, Ran Ra.

Balaing commune chief Lem Nath could not be reached for comment this week. She said previously that Pren had made other mistakes during his tenure, accusing him of taking money from people to process documents and insulting monks.

However, Pren this week accused his bosses of working together to suppress his views.

“I feel hurt because they removed me without clear reason,” Pren said. “The removal came from collusion.”

The Snar Sangkream families lost their land at Run Ta Ek almost two decades ago. They say the state promised them compensation at the time, but they never received it.

They put up with losing land to the state, but could not accept seeing their former land now being handed over to people being removed from Angkor Archaeological Park, they have said.

The government is in the midst of pushing a mass relocation from Angkor park, saying shops and houses threaten the park’s Unesco world heritage status. Thousands of people have protested the displacement. Authorities have threatened people who do not agree to move, but say the relocations are not evictions.

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