Dispute-Weary Villagers Protest in B Meanchey

The road in front of the Banteay Meanchey provincial hall was blocked for three hours on Friday morning as more than 250 people from six communities across the province gathered to implore local officials to resolve their longstanding land disputes with private companies and powerful businessmen.

Some holding aloft portraits of the prime minister and his wife, the protesters assembled outside the provincial government’s offices in Serei Saophoan City at about 8 a.m. and disbanded before noon after representatives of the six groups were allowed inside to air their grievances, according to participants. 

Sam Map, whose family is one of 170 in Thma Puok district that have been feuding with businessman Ly Sam An’s eponymous agribusiness firm on and off since 2007, said the community stood to lose 293 hectares of land if authorities did not take their side.

“We are demanding that the provincial governor measure the land for us [for private land titles] because the company has grabbed our farmland,” Mr. Map said.

Yim Piseth, said he was protesting on behalf of the families of 31 decommissioned soldiers living in O’Chrou district who were fighting to keep hold of 3- to 5-hectare plots they had been farming since 1993, but which were claimed by the Sou Chanthou company in 2004.

“We are not demanding the land for selling, but we need land for farming,” Mr. Piseth said.

Speaking after the meeting with the community representatives, deputy provincial governor Oum Rea­trey said he was taking the villager’s complaints seriously.

“We have received more than 100 complaints related to land disputes [in Banteay Meanchey], but that doesn’t mean we won’t settle them,” he said.

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