Government Tries to Solve Land Dispute by Taking From Others

Several dozen families in Banteay Meanchey province involved in a land dispute were given 100 hectares of replacement land in O’Chrou district on Tuesday, but have refused to accept it because it is already claimed by more than 230 other families, two village chiefs said.

The provincial government yesterday said it would transfer 100 hectares of land in Soeng commune’s Ron village to 71 families who are originally from Snuol Tret village in O’Beichoan commune.

But this decision, made by deputy provincial governor Chung Phet, has infuriated both the 71 families involved in the dispute and the 237 families who farm on the 100 hectares of land and stand to lose it.

“This decision is making my villagers angry, because they cleared the land and have lived there since 1999,” said Ron village chief Venh Chet.

“I am really concerned, because villagers from two separate communes could now fight for the cultivated land,” he added.

Chuon Chen, deputy village chief for Snuol Tret, said that the decision, made at a meeting Tuesday morning with the deputy governor, had also angered his villagers.

Keo Song, a representative of the 71 families, said the villagers would flatly refuse to take the new land.

“We are not going to take other villagers’ cultivated farmland. This decision delivered by deputy provincial governor Chung Phet is shameless, because he is taking our land for the company while pushing us to confront other villagers for their land,” he said.

The Forestry Administration in 2002 told the villagers of Snuol Tret that they had to leave their land because they were living inside a protected area. In 2008, however, the Sou Chanthou company was granted a 3,744-hectare concession across three communes in O’Chrou district, including Snuol Tret village and its outskirts, the deputy village chief said.

Mr. Phet said after the meeting that the decision was only a provisional one, and that the land in Snuol Tret was going to be reforested as part of a government project.

“We are not taking villagers’ land to give to other villagers,” he added. “The land we are planning to give villagers is totally state forest land.”

Soum Chankea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he doubted that the plan was merely provisional, as the 71 families had already been asked to thumbprint documents agreeing to the transfer. They had all refused, he noted.

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