Fishing Loss Protested By Villagers

Dozens of Kompong Thom villagers who say their ancestral fishing waters have been taken from them gathered in front of the National Assembly Wednes­day, begging the government to intervene.

The villagers contend the people who bought the rights to the section of Tonle Sap lake in front of their village do not allow them to fish. If they do fish, they say, the catch must be sold to the owner at a fraction of market value or their nets will be seized.

“We were always allowed to fish there,” said Sea Mek, 78, of Phsaot Village in Kompong Svay district. “Now the owner wants it all.”

The waters of the Tonle Sap lake and the Tonle Sap and Mekong rivers are divided into “lots,” which are auctioned by the government. Most buyers subdivide their lot and sell the pieces, which are often divided and sold again.

In the past, most lot owners allowed villagers in the area to take a small amount of fish. But in recent years, more owners have closed off their lots to villagers, using armed guards to patrol the area, according to fisheries officials.

Meng Rita, a Sam Rainsy Party senator, talked with the villagers Wednesday. “They will die if they are banned from fishing,” he said.

Chheng You, who the Kom­pong Svay villagers said owns the lot, could not be reached for comment Wednes­day.

Nou Phoeung, governor of Kompong Thom, said the provincial government has been unable to facilitate an agreement between the lot owners and local fishermen.

The problem, Nou Phoeung said, lies in the high price of the lots, some of which are auctioned for hundreds of thousands of dollars.

Because the lots are so expensive, he said, the owners cannot afford to have villagers taking the fish. He suggested that the government lower the price of the lots and set some lots aside for villagers to fish in.


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