Families Ask Hun Sen for Help to Reclaim Farms

Dozens of representatives from at least 100 recently evicted families accused of illegally occupying state land in Kratie province traveled to Phnom Penh on Monday morning to petition Prime Minister Hun Sen for his help getting their land back.

The families say local authorities have been allowing them to clear land in Snuol district’s Khyoem commune as far back as 2008 and that 405 families have moved in and cleared about 2,000 hectares for farming since.

They say about 50 military police showed up with tractors on Friday, however, and demolished the tents most of them were living in and razed two homes before setting fire to their frames and thatched roofs.

“Authorities ordered the three tractors to go onto the land and pulled my house down with cables and then set fire to it,” said Thy Sareth, one of 37 representatives who made the trip to Phnom Penh and gathered at Wat Botum Park.

The representatives were met at the park by Kong Chamroeun, an official in the prime minister’s cabinet, who accepted their letter and asked them to return to Kratie and meet with provincial officials there to settle the dispute.

Provincial deputy governor Khan Chamnan said he would meet with the families to try to convince them that they were in fact living illegally on state land and should stop asking for it back. But he said the government was preparing a 7,000-hectare social land concession for them in another district.

“We will ask them to get letters from their local authorities stating that they have no land, then we will give them a social land concession,” he said.

The families claim that they are being forced off the land because the government wants to give it to a Vietnamese company planning a rubber plantation.

District governor Kong Kimny said the Vietnamese firm Binh Phoeuk 2 was given a 4,000-hectare economic land concession nearby in 2008 but insisted that it did not overlap with the land the 100 families were farming on.

He confirmed local authorities demolished their tents and homes on Friday and said they had been warned in advance several times.

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