Company Meeting Villagers Over Pursat Land Dispute

Pursat provincial officials and representatives of a company developing a land concession near the Thai border will meet today with villagers who claim they own large parcels of the land being developed, provincial officials said yesterday.

The meeting was scheduled after more than 300 families from three villages in Veal Veng district’s Thma Da commune carried out protests over the past month, claiming MDS Company workers were illegally clearing their farmland, commune chief Prom Ngun said yesterday.

The government granted MDS a 2,250 hectare economic land concession earlier this year to develop rubber plantations and a special economic zone that would include a new border crossing with Thailand’s Trat province, Mr Ngun said.

He said he believed the villagers had protested prematurely in protesting against the company. “The company so far has only cleared the state land, not villagers’ farmland,” he said, adding that MDS was owned by wealthy businessman Try Pheap.

Veal Veng district governor Chhe Chhiv said yesterday that officials would meet peacefully with villagers today to try and resolve their complaints, but added that he did not believe that any of the villagers’ farmland was being affected.

“To be frank, there are a few villagers who are being employed to [grab] land for third parties,” he said.

Mr Pheap could not be reached yesterday.

By Born, a villager from Thma Da commune’s Sangkum Thmei village, said yesterday that bulldozers employed by MDS had already cleared large swathes of land in the area and were moving closer to villagers’ farmland.

“[At the meeting], villagers will all stand up to raise our concerns,” he said, adding that many villagers had already handed copies of their temporary land ownership documents to authorities.

Another villager, Ly Buna, said each family owned between two and 10 hectares, and had since 1996. “We are demanding to keep our farmland for ourselves. No land swaps are expected,” she said.

Representatives from the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee spent time meeting with affected villagers this week and urged them not to use violence against authorities or the company, Ms Buna added.



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