Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Boeung Tamok Residents Desperately Seek King’s Help To Resolve Land Dispute

Boeung Tamok community residents and their children march to the Royal Palace to submit a petition to the King to seek his help to resolve their land dispute, March 18, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Boeung Tamok community residents and their children march to the Royal Palace to submit a petition to the King to seek his help to resolve their land dispute, March 18, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

About 40 Boeung Tamok community residents marched from the night market to the Royal Palace to petition the King to intervene in the Boeung Tamok development, which has affected their homes and livelihoods. 

Around 2 p.m on Monday, the villagers, including parents and young children, started their walk, forming two lines, while holding photos of King Norodom Sihamoni and the Queen Mother. They chanted slogans into microphones as they walked saying “Boeung Tamok is life, Boeung Tamok is the economy.” 

When they arrived at Kandal Market, district officers tried to stop them, but failed. The villagers continued walking until they reached the Royal Palace, while district officials and palace authorities monitored their movement.

After waiting for 10 minutes near Wat Botum Park, four palace officials and Daun Penh district officials came to talk to the people but they did not take their petition for the King. They said the King does not hold a position in the civil service, therefore he cannot solve their land issue. The villagers were asked to contact the relevant ministries, although no particular names of the officers in charge were provided to them. 

Another palace official, Chhum Rithy, said the King was not able to accept their petition because the latter was in China now. Rithy suggested that the villagers publish the petition on social media or a website, so that the King would see the information.

“Please be informed that the Royal Palace cannot accept the petition. To [submit the petition], you can go to the City Hall or the Prime Minister’s Office. As I know, the Royal Palace does not accept [petitions]. If you do not get what I mean, then I don’t know either,” said Rithy.

Separately, a Daun Penh district official said, “What I understand from the Royal Palace office is that these issues are related to the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and the City Hall and government. [If] you want the King to receive the petition, this is not the right way,” he said. 

District security guards monitor the march by Boeung Tamok community residents and their children in their bid to submit a petition to the King to get help on their land dispute, March 18, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Despite the authorities’ claims, the villagers continue to believe that only the King could intervene to solve their issue as they have “used up all available avenues” to seek help. They said they sought the help of state institutions but instead received summonses from Prek Pnov district authorities.

So, the petition to the King is because the state authorities did not resolve or render justice for the people affected by the development of Boeung Tamok.

“If we do not rely on the King, whom should we rely on? We will not accept the land swap policy,” the residents said.

Sea Davy from Samrong Tbong village in Boeung Tamok said even though the palace officer did not receive the petition they could at least take a picture of the petition and send it to the King.

In the petition, the people alleged that those in power dismissed the villagers’ right on the land and “cut the lake” (divided the lake area) to be allocated to “powerful companies and tycoons”. 

“I can’t accept this because whenever I come to submit the petition, they [authority] try to stop us and say our King does not have the right and power to solve this issue,” Davy said.

She added that they are seeking the King’s intervention because Boeung Tamok residents have tried their best to obtain a solution from the authorities but there has not been one.

“Where should I ask for help? I have to rely on our King to [safeguard our home and land] because we are facing a dismissal to our right [on the land] because of the Prek Pnov authority,” said Davy.

Another villager of Samrong Tbong, Troy Samnang, 38, said she has lived in the Boeung Tamok area since 2000. Hence, the need for a resolution from the King as they are now facing the loss of their home because the government “took away the lake for rich people, not for poor people”.

“We have lived here for so long. We are not people from the slums,” she said, noting that the way they were treated by the authorities was unfair. “We’re afraid that one day they [authority] will excavate the land around our house. That’s why we are here to file a petition with our King,” Samnang added.

Boeung Tamok community residents and their children march to the Royal Palace to submit a petition to the King to seek his help to resolve their land dispute, March 18, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Boeung Tamok or Boeung Kob Srov is the largest natural lake in Phnom Penh with a total area of 3,239.7 hectares. Some 300 families live around the lake, most of whom fish, grow crops, breed fish and run small businesses for a living.

According to STT, between January and February 2019, 71 families were facing eviction, with 15 to 25 families at “high risk of eviction”, and at least 204 families at “risk of eviction” in the future.

Licadho rights group operation director Am Sam Ath said the problem surrounding the Boeung Tamok community is related to ongoing disputes and lawsuits as a result of the land development. The government’s settlement process has not progressed well or is not a good solution. Owing to that, the resolution ultimately lies in the hands of the relevant authorities and government offices, who are responsible for the community.

“From the civil society’s point of view, [we] want to see a peaceful settlement, with a petition seeking the King’s intervention. It’s the citizens’ right to request the King’s intervention,” Sam Ath said.

In mid-January, a district official filed lawsuits against six out of seven individuals alleging deliberate violence, property destruction and offenses against the public authority.

Villager Samnang said while they support development in the country, the government should not be developing on poor people’s land.

“We have only this house, no others. They cut land up for tycoons and high ranking officers but why not for poor people like us? I am so miserable. I am also his people [King’s subjects], please see to our problem,” she appealed.

(Additional report by Pou Soreachny)