Four Communities Band Together in Land Dispute Protest

Some 150 people representing hundreds of families claiming nearly 2,000 hectares of disputed land in Banteay Meanchey province joined together in Serei Saophoan City yesterday in a protest calling on the provincial governor to issue them long-awaited land titles.

The four communities, who claim disputed land in the districts of O’Chrou, Thma Pouk and Malai and Serei Saophoan City, gathered at the provincial administrative offices in the morning in an effort to pressure authorities into resolving their yearslong disputes.

Long Sokunthy, a 44-year-old representative of the group from Boeng Snor village in O’Chrou, said she joined the protest because a businessman named Sam Phanrith had in 2010 purchased 1,432 hectares of land from the village chief even though it was occupied.

“Boeng Snor village chief Yim Phearom filed a complaint with the courts accusing villagers of occupying someone else’s property,” Ms. Sokunthy said, arguing that the village chief had no right to sell the land.

“Villagers have lived there since 1999,” she said. “Now the villagers living on that land have a dispute, and they even tried to intimidate us to evict us.”

“We ask the provincial authorities to speed up the issuing of land titles,” she added. “The reason the communities protested together is to put pressure on authorities to resolve the problems they have been ignoring.”

Sa Mam, 40, said she represented 170 families from Thma Pouk whose collective 293 hectares of once mostly forested land is being claimed by the Ly Sam An company, though the families have lived there since 1998.

“[Last] January, the court issued an injunction allowing the company to cultivate the land,” Ms. Mam said. She explained that the order forbid the 170 families from cultivating their own plots to allow the company to properly grow its rubber and cashew crops.

Provincial governor Kousoum Saroeuth said after the protest that the other two communities had smaller disputes. He said villagers from Serei Saophoan were opposing a new road on their land and that some disabled soldiers in Malai were claiming to have lost their farmland.

“These disputes occurred long ago and it is very complicated to resolve them because sometimes the villagers have sold off their land and then come out to protest to get their land back,” Mr. Saroeuth said.

“In some cases, land has been sold on to many individuals and it’s unclear who has ownership,” he said. “There’s a working group working on this issue.”

The firms involved in the disputes could not be reached for comment.

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