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Villagers seek end to land disputes

Pech Sotheary / Khmer Times Share:
The villagers came to Phnom Penh seeking intervention at the national level. KT/Mai Vireak

Two groups of more than 100 people from Kratie and Oddar Meanchey provinces have come to Phnom Penh to submit petitions to relevant ministries and institutions, asking for intervention to speed up resolution of their land disputes.

One group of more than 100 people came from Pi Thnou commune in Kratie province’s Snuol district, where a violent clash erupted earlier this month over a land dispute with the Memot Rubber Plantation Company.

Another group of 25 people came from Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district, where they are embroiled in a land dispute with district authorities.

Both groups submitted petitions to the Ministry of Land Management, Interior Ministry, Cabinet of the Prime Minister and the National Assembly.

Phin Thea, a resident from Kratie province’s Snuol district, said that 665 families had cleared the forest, and lived and planted crops on six hectares of land since 2014, with no authority or company banning them.

But on March 7 and 8, police forces and representatives of the Memot Rubber Plantation Company used machinery to clear the land and remove and burn the houses of residents, causing clashes that ended with forces firing their weapons and injuring several residents.

“About four to five people were injured at that time, and the authorities and the company so far still prohibit citizens from going to the old location,” Mr Thea said.

“The people have asked to live on the vacant land, but they still prevent us and have also destroyed all of our crops. So I came to Phnom Penh to ask the authorities and leaders to help us to live on the land like before because we don’t know where to live.”

According to the petition, authorities have still not returned 38 motorbikes that were seized in the clash on March 8.

Kong Chamroeun, the secretary of Mr Hun Sen’s cabinet, and representatives of the Land Management Ministry came directly to Samaki Raingsey pagoda, where the people from Kratie province are staying while seeking intervention, to accept their petition and help them prepare documents.

“Our officials have come to help facilitate the content of the petition to submit to our authorities and leaders to consider whether to summon them to resolve it,” Mr Chamroeun said.

Ol Sok Yos, a representative of the Land Management Ministry, said that after receiving the petition, ministry officials would investigate and resolve the land dispute according to legal procedures.

“In this case, the people just started to clear the land in 2014. So we do not know how the land is affected until there is a ban from the authorities, so we have to investigate to find out who is wrong and who is right, because we’re not sure that the people who came to protest are right,” he said.

On March 9, the Memot Rubber Plantation Company released a statement claiming that it had been granted investment rights from the government in the development of agro-industry in the disputed area since 2008, but the people cleared and grabbed company land.

The Interior Ministry concluded an investigation into the violent clash between villagers and authorities earlier this month, reaffirming that no one was killed in the confrontation. The ministry said two villagers and seven police officers were injured in the clash, which it claimed was sparked by villagers.

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