200 villagers protest in Samlot land dispute

About 200 villagers in Battambang province’s Samlot district converged at the Ta Tork commune office Tuesday, demanding that a company stop seizing their farmland, a rights worker and villagers said.

The villagers then moved to the site of the firm’s concession, where they confronted and stopped bulldozers that were clearing the land.

Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for the human rights group Adhoc, said that about 200 villagers protested land clearances by the Roth Sambath company, which has been awarded 5,200 hectares of land to grow rubber trees.

“The villagers demanded that the authorities solve land disputes in their area as they fear that their land will be lost,” Mr Mengly said, adding that the Roth Sambath company began clearing land in Ta Tork commune last week.

“Now I am still investigating the case as I am not sure how many hectares of the villagers’ farmland will be affected,” Mr Mengly said.

In August last year, the Roth Sambath company drew protests from about 130 families in neighboring Sung commune as part of a separate land dispute. A total of eight land disputes have been recorded by Adhoc in Battambang province so far this year, down from 11 during all of 2009, according to Mr Mengly.

“If we compare to last year, land disputes in Battambang have decreased,” Mr Mengly said, adding that low land prices had contributed to the decline.

Svay Mao, a district councilor, said that he lost part of his 20 meter-by-250 meter plot of land because the Roth Sambath company bulldozed it last week.

“I am very worried that we will lose our farmland,” Mr Mao said, adding that the villagers stopped three bulldozers from clearing farms.

Villager Ham Chan, 50, said that his family would be without farmland if the Roth Sambath company encroached on his plot of land in Ta Tork commune.

“If our land is taken, how can we live?” asked Mr Chan, a former Khmer Rouge soldier who lost his right foot to a land mine in 1993.

Ta Tork commune chief Kim Ly said that about 200 hectares of villager farmland are within the boundary of Roth Sambath’s concession and that district authorities were working to resolve the issue.

“Now we asked the company to stop bulldozing the land for a while as we are waiting for a solution,” Ms Ly said, adding that the Roth Sambath company had complied with the request.

Contact information for the Roth Sambath company was unavailable.


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