Ex-Soldiers Blamed of Clearing Contested Land in Poipet to be Investigated

Banteay Meanchey provincial officials said yesterday they will investigate complaints that former RCAF soldiers are clearing a 28-hectare plot of contested land in Poipet city’s Tuol Pongro village.

Unless the ex-soldiers stop soon, the villagers who claim they own the land said they will take their complaint to the governor in person.

“I will send officials to do a field investigation soon about the land clearance by those soldiers in Tuol Pongro village,” said Som Sokhen, secretary general for the provincial governor’s office.

According to villager Sat Smak, the former soldiers of RCAF’s 12th Division claim the National Agriculture Development Association granted them the 28 hectares in December. Claiming the province granted them the land in 1998, however, the villagers soon filed a complaint with the provincial court, where it has sat ever since.

The villagers’ own efforts to stop the newly-arrived soldiers, who began moving in Feb 9, have failed.

“More than 20 of our people tried to halt the excavator this morning,” Sman Kin, who represents the affected families, said yesterday.

“We are discussing among the 20 affected families to protest at the provincial governor’s office someday next week,” he added. “The protest is planned to seek the governor’s intervention because we are the legal land owners.”

Provincial Governor Oung Oeung could not be reached yesterday, but according to Mr Sokhen, the provincial office has asked Poipet city officials to settle the ownership of the disputed land.

“I could not make a conclusion whether these villagers legally own the land or not,” he said. “But one thing I am pretty clear about is that the 28 hectares of land that NADA used to claim was confiscated as [state-run] property in late 2006.”

Mr Sokhen did, however, say that the families of 268 former 12th Division soldiers were granted 3 hectares in neighboring Chankiri village in December.

Contact information for NADA, the city and the ex-soldiers was not immediately available.

Tuol Pongro village chief Ran Chamroeun backed the claims of the affected families yesterday.

“The villagers have been using the land for decades, and they even have paperwork with the signature of local authorities to prove their ownership,” he said.


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