B’bang Villagers Petition ADB Over Loss of Farmland to Canal

Two hundred families from Mong Russei district, Battambang province, said Monday they are planning to file a petition with the Asian Development Bank to stop the funding of an irrigation project, which they say will result in the loss of 500 hectares of their farmland.

Villager Rath Mom, who has 4 hectares of land affected by the project, said families from five villages in Kakoh commune are collecting fingerprints for their petition, which they would send to the ADB on Friday in order to prevent the bank funding a project to restore a canal built during the Democratic Kam­puchea regime.

“We will send the petition to ADB asking to quit the project to restore the canal because the scale of the impact will be worse [on local residents],” Rath Mom said. He said the villagers would suggest to the ADB to expand the storage capacity of a nearby natural lake instead of the canal, adding they were prepared to give up a 30-meters wide area of land surrounding Chak Lake to this end.

The ADB project, believed to be worth $2 million, will restore a canal that stretches for 4 km between Kakoh and Prey Touch communes. It collapsed in 1980 and afterwards local residents moved into the area to start growing rice.

Kakoh commune chief Pal Cho­am said the social impact of the project was not as bad as claimed by the villagers and only 38 families would be affected.

“The majority of the people just exaggerate [the importance of] the facts by giving the wrong number of affected people to get their individual interests,” he said.

ADB spokesman Kim Chanta said the bank would receive the villagers’ complaint although ADB had no obligation to resolve the matt­er, as this was a government responsibility.

The ADB would forward the complaints to the government’s Inter-ministerial Resettlement Committee, as the bank had done with the complaints of villagers from Poipet commune, Banteay Meanchey province, who claim they will be affected by an ADB-funded railway renovation project, he said.

Kim Chanta said that the irrigation project in Mong Russei district was still in the design phase, and he did not know if the project could be stopped and its funding frozen.

“Generally we don’t claim the loaned money back and quit a project,” Kim Chanta said, adding the ADB could re-designate part of the funding for a compensation project if the impact was proven to be serious.

Chhim Savuth, investigator for local rights group the Cambodia Center for Human Rights, said the relevant ministries must conduct a thorough investigation into the villagers’ claims.

“I was in the field, I’ve seen hundreds of families who will face a large loss, especially as some families don’t have another plot of land for farming,” he said.

 

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