About 175 families from Bat-tambang province protested in front of the National Assembly Friday, claiming their land has been seized by the military and Khmer Rouge defectors.
“If the government cannot resolve this…[and] if we can’t farm on the land, we and our children will die,” said Tith Nuon, leader of the group.
He said the group, which was comprised of three communes in Bavel district, had submitted a formal complaint to the National Assembly. The villagers claim they have used the land since 1987, except for the times they’ve been forced to leave because of fighting in the area.
The number of land disputes involving the military and villagers has risen dramatically in the Battambang area since the Khmer Rouge began to defect in 1996. Most cases are settled out of court.
In late November, the Center for Social Development in Phnom Penh sponsored a public forum on the issue in Battambang.
At the forum, Battambang-based Military Region 5 General Van Sophat acknowledged that soldiers and defectors need to learn how to respect villagers’ rights.
Ko Chhean, commander of Military Region 5, said Friday that he is working to resolve the latest dispute. But he claimed that soldiers had held the land long before the villagers moved in.
“It is not true that those villagers used the land before the war ended,” he said.