Anticipating clashes with soldiers, at least 100 Battambang province villagers will harvest rice today on some 180 hectares of contested land that they claim was seized from them and sold by former Khmer Rouge soldiers in 1997, a villager representative said Sunday.
Chhoeurn Ny said she will lead at least 100 villagers representing 112 families farming the land to harvest rice they planted in April.
Villagers will bring hoes, axes and knives to fend off anyone who tries to stand in their way, she said.
“We are very poor. If they do not harvest, we will starve to death,” Chhoeurn Ny said. “So, although there will be violent action against us, we have to harvest.”
The 112 families had owned
360 hectares of rice fields in the district since 1984, she said, but when remaining Khmer Rouge soldiers defected to the government in 1997, they took the land and sold it to 46 other families.
Since then, the original families had no land on which to plant rice until they reclaimed 180 hectares in April and began to cultivate it, Chhoeurn Ny said.
On Nov 22, two villagers from the group of 112 families were arrested in connection with the land dispute and charged with trying to destroy private property. Villagers reported Sunday that seven armed soldiers, hired by the 46 families, were guarding the contested field.
Yim Meng Ly, Battambang provincial director for rights group Adhoc, agreed Sunday that the 112 families were victims of land grabbing by former Khmer Rouge soldiers. He blamed provincial authorities for allowing the land to be sold to the 46 families without consulting the original residents.
Chao Kim On, secretary-general of the provincial land title department, said the department is mediating the dispute.
“The department does not regard one side as right or wrong. Through negotiations, both sides will receive the same benefit,” Chao Kim On said. “If they use violence against each other, they will be punished.”
Contact information for any of the 46 families was not available Sunday.