District security guards were deployed to Chroy Changva peninsula Tuesday to intercept villagers who were ready to smash a pipe that has been pumping sand onto their land for the past year.
The roughly 40 families occupy the northeastern corner of a 387-hectare swathe of wetlands that was handed over to the Overseas Cambodian Investment Corporation (OCIC) on a 99-year lease in 2001.
“This is our land. We have been here since the fall of the Pol Pot regime and we have documents to prove it,” said Ya Luong Huong, 68.
“If they try to pump sand onto our land, we will smash the pipe with an ax.”
The villagers are protecting the last 7 hectares of the land granted to OCIC for a $3-billion real estate project to be known as “Chroy Changva City: City of the Future.” OCIC has already pumped millions of cubic meters of sand into the once-verdant wetlands.
On Tuesday morning, Mr. Luong Huong woke to see that the sand had crept to within about 5 meters of his home and called his neighbors to action.
But before the villagers could destroy the overland pipe carrying sand from dredging boats docked in the Tonle Sap river, a team of 20 district security guards arrived.
“We protect the company’s land because they have permission to pump sand onto this land,” said a man who identified himself as Phanny, head of Chroy Changva district security.
An argument between the two parties ensued, with one security guard telling the villagers: “Just go home, it is very hard work if you want to move the pipe.”
“It’s not so hard. We have an ax and cutting tools,” one villager retorted.
Mr. Phanny pleaded with the locals, who would be the last of hundreds of families to have their land turned to desert, to move aside for the sake of the nation’s progress.
“Just look on Samdech [Hun Sen’s] Facebook page, you will see what he is trying to do. He is trying to develop the country for everyone,” he said, before agreeing to broker a meeting today between the district office, OCIC and the locals.
At the request of Mr. Phanny, the security chief, the sand had stopped flowing from the pipe to the Kean Khleang village wetlands by Tuesday afternoon.
Chreang Sophan, deputy Phnom Penh governor, said Mr. Luong Huong and others thwarting the final stage of OCIC’s sand-pumping project might be eligible for land titles.
“If they have the real documents to show that they have occupied the land since 1980, they can request a land title,” he said. “But sometimes, even those documents are not enough.”