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Wildlife charity land dispute rumbles on

Khy Sovuthy / Khmer Times Share:
Villagers have asked to be given land on which to continue growing bananas. Supplied

Villagers representing 200 families embroiled in a land dispute with a wildlife charity have written to Koh Kong provincial hall asking for permission to farm on 500 hectares near where they live.
The residents were awarded land certificates for their homes in Thma Baing district several years ago. A forest area close to their community was excluded from those certificates, but they cleared it because they had no other land to cultivate crops.
 They had been growing bananas there for about five years. But conservation charity the Wildlife Alliance, formerly known as Wildaid, recently cut down the villagers’ banana trees and accused them of abusing protected forest.
About 80 villagers from Russei Chrum commune protested about the issue earlier this week and called on the ruling CPP to intervene on their behalf.
Local villager Som Aun, 42, said a group of five of them delivered their letter to the provincial hall yesterday morning. Villagers also submitted a letter to the provincial environment department on Tuesday.
“We are asking the provincial authority to designate 500 hectares of land for the 200 families that had banana plantations,” Mr Aun said. “We do not have any other land to farm on and we need to feed our families.
“My family had about six or seven hectares of bananas plantations that have been affected.”
The Wildlife Alliance and provincial environment department officials brought military police to cut down trees on about 10 hectares of land in March and April.
“If the provincial authorities do not allow us to use the land we will continue to protest,” Mr Aun said.
Nop Thet, a Wildlife Alliance officer in Koh Kong district, said provincial officials would not be able to support villagers’ attempts to cultivate crops on forest land.
“We are waiting for a resolution to this,” Mr Thet said. “We only cut down banana trees growing on protected forests.”

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