Villagers in Battambang province’s Ek Phnom district have filed complaints with provincial and district authorities accusing forestry officials of wrongfully banning them from using a 75-hectare area of forested land they say they have fished and farmed since 1985.
Provincial fisheries officials confirmed that a ban existed but claimed that the complaining families have illegally cleared the forested property for farming.
Yin Mengly, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that 68 families from Prey Chas commune filed their complaints on Jan 29, saying they have not been allowed to use the land since December.
“They earn from 6 to 7 million riel a year from rice and other crops. If they fail to plant it, it will seriously affect their living standard,” Mr Mengly said, referring to an amount of money equal to about $1,500 to $1,750. “They planted rice since 1985.”
Pho Sam, 48, acting chief of Bak Prea village, said yesterday that villagers are still waiting to hear back from authorities so they can begin planting their crops.
“This time of year we plant rice, but we don’t have land,” he said.
Mr Sam said forestry officials first started ordering villagers not to use the land back in October, but residents stood their ground.
“We don’t agree to give this land because if we [do], we cannot catch fish in the area. The villagers depend on this land,” he said.
Provincial fisheries administration chief Heng Piseth said the villagers had to be banned from the area because they are clearing the forest to make way for farms.
“That place is a flooded forest area. They clear the forest for farming,” he said, adding villagers began clearing the forest three to four years ago.
“We banned them in order to make the flooded forest grow and provide a good shelter for the fish,” he said.
Deputy provincial governor Sieng Suthorng said he needed more time to investigate.
“I will help to solve the problem, but I have to investigate,” he said.