Former Border Camp Refugees Protest Over Disputed Land

Almost 100 former Thai border camp refugees have been protesting since Friday in front of Wat Bo­tum seeking Prime Minister Hun Sen’s help to get back disputed Ban­teay Meanchey province land they say was given to them in a 1993 UN re­patriation program.

Sok Mony, 45, said Monday that the Preah Netr Preah district protesters represent 222 families that were granted 444 hectares in equal di­visions of two hectares each by the UN High Commis­sioner for Ref­u­gees in 1993.

But the land has never been com­pletely under the former ref­u­gees’ con­trol, and they alleged that on April 22, businessmen who now claim ownership of the land de­stroyed their crops.

Villagers said they were able to oc­­cupy the land briefly when Khmer Rouge fighting ended in 1996, but they were quickly kick­ed back off the farms by the RCAF mil­itary units that had battled the Khmer Rouge in the area.

They said they returned to the land in 1999 but were ordered to share their harvest with a retired mil­itary official, who then sold their land to other officials and bus­inessmen.

“I cried to see my rice being de­stroyed,” said Touch Bai, 47.

“We won’t go back without a solution…. We have no place to go,” she said.

She added that although fighting had forced villagers from their farms in the past, it was now the high price of land that was prompting their eviction.

Preah Netr Preah commune chief Hong Huy said villagers had a le­gitimate claim to the land but had not occupied it from 1993 to 1999, com­plicating the issue.

“I feel pity for them, but I cannot help them,” Hong Huy said.

Second Deputy Provincial Gov­er­nor Sok Saret said that a former military official, Vang Thy, claimed the land in 1993 and has since sold it to other businessmen who have occupied the land for more than a dec­ade.

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