K Speu Families Threaten to Take Back Farms

Representatives for about 250 families involved in a long-running dispute with an agri-business firm in Kompong Speu province have filed a complaint with rights group Adhoc and say they will attempt to retake land that was stolen from them.

About 60 of the villagers traveled to Phnom Penh on Thursday to publicize their case through the media and held a press conference at Adhoc’s head office.

Som Kong, one of the villagers, said the families have been farming the disputed 950 hectares since the 1980s and filed numerous complaints with various government authorities to no avail after the Master International Corporation Group started taking it over in 2006.

She said the villagers have clashed with security forces over the land in the past and been threatened to back off. Undeterred, Ms. Kong said the families will now try farming the land once again.

“Starting now, our villagers will move back to farm on the land even though we risk our lives and the armed forces might crack down on us,” she said. “Our people need to be landlords, not laborers for a private company on land we have legally farmed since the 1980s.”

The villagers also claimed that Om Vanna, the local head of a government-run land titling program, promised to give the families land titles if they voted for the ruling CPP in last year’s national election. They say they voted for the party but have gotten nothing in return.

Neither Mr. Vanna nor Land Management Ministry officials could be reached for comment.

Taing Samraong commune chief Kong Soeun confirmed that the families had been farming the land for many years but said the dispute was out of his hands.

“The villagers have been farming the land for many years, but the company claims it has a title to prove ownership,” he said.

“This case is very serious and it is beyond my power. Only the national government can find a solution.”

Adhoc said it would investigate the case.

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