About 70 villagers representing hundreds of families living in Battambang City’s Prek Preah Sdech commune protested outside the provincial hall Tuesday over fears that local authorities intend to evict them to make way for military families.
Kiv Bopha, a representative of the protesters, said that some 600 families from three villages in the commune—none of which holds land titles—fear that they will be evicted without compensation because provincial land management officials demarcated part of the 6 hectares they live on.
“The provincial authorities have plans to remove us from the land and replace us with the families of soldiers without any compensation,” said Ms. Bopha, explaining that Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers accompanied the officials during their visit in late January.
“We have been living here since just after the Khmer Rouge era,” she said. “So why are the authorities claiming we are living here illegally on state land?”
Cambodia’s Land Law states that if people have been living on undisputed land for more than five years prior to 2001, they have the legal right to a binding property title.
Deputy provincial governor Nguon Ratanak on Tuesday confirmed that land management officials visited Prek Preah Sdech commune in January, and that a number of military families, along with 82 other poor families, may move onto the land once it is “cleaned up.”
He said authorities asked the families to temporarily vacate their homes so they could “clean up that area” and reallocate the land to accommodate the new families.
“We will not evict them from their homes, but we might cut some plots of their land,” he said, adding that families would not be compensated for land lost, as the area was state land and therefore did not officially belong to them.
Heng Vuoch Pheng, 55, who joined Tuesday’s protest, was skeptical that authorities would stay true to their word if she left as requested.
“I don’t believe the authorities will give back my land,” she said.
Following the demonstration, the protesters met with Battambang City officials, but failed to reach a solution satisfactory to both sides.