Battambang Families to Petition Prime Minister

A group of families involved in a land dispute with a businessman in Battambang province will today submit petitions to the National Assembly and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet to plead for intervention.

The more than 300 families, from Bavel district’s Boeng Bram commune, maintain that businessman Sorng Thorn has wrongly claimed 612 hectares of their farmland.

“We came to clear the land, which we have stayed on since 2004,” said villager Chhut Mao, 68, one of hundreds of farmers who fear authorities might evict them.

Mr. Mao said protesters met Monday with provincial deputy governor Nguon Rattanak to request justice for the families, and began the trek to Phnom Penh after failing to find a solution.

“[Nguon Rattanak] told us that he cannot help, because this is a case for the court,” Mr. Mao said.

“We are going to Phnom Penh to submit a petition letter with the National Assembly and Samdech Hun Sen’s cabinet to ask for help.”

Sorng Thorn won an injunction with the provincial court in February 2012 ordering villagers to stop living on and cultivating the disputed land. The Court of Appeal heard the case earlier this month and also ruled against the villagers.

Mr. Rattanak said he had told villagers that the case was now out of his hands as a result of the court rulings.

“Former provincial governor [Prach Chan] confiscated the land from villagers for state property [in 2006] because they came to grab state land,” he said.

Mr. Chan, the former governor, pointed the finger back at Mr. Rattanak.

“I just signed the request of deputy governor Mr. Rattanak to confiscate this land for state property,” he said. “Please ask him, he knows more than me.”

Bavel district governor Tim Dareth said that Sorng Thorn had purchased the land in the late 1990s, well before the current residents began to clear and cultivate it.

Mr. Dareth added that it was Mr. Chan who originally confiscated the land from the alleged squatters and handed it back to Mr. Thorn.

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