Land Dispute Villagers Call Off 300-km March

A group of villagers from Pursat province Monday cut short a 300-km walk to Phnom Penh—after a petition they sent last month seeking intervention from the National Assembly went unanswered—agreeing instead to negotiate with local authorities, according to officials and a local rights group.

About 80 families in Thma Da commune say they are being forced off land that they have farmed for years by tycoon Try Pheap’s MDS company, which was granted a 2,250-hectare economic land concession in Veal Veng district to develop a new border checkpoint and a rubber plantation.

Last Saturday, dozens of police, military police and soldiers supervised by deputy provincial governor Keut Chhe tore down 12 homes in O’Svay commune’s Sangkum Thmey village, prompting 27 residents to walk to Phnom Penh to ask lawmakers to find a solution.

Phuong Sothea, provincial investigator for human rights group Adhoc, said the razing of the houses had sparked the protest.

“However, authorities stopped them about 10 km out of town and transported them back to the provincial hall for a meeting with the provincial governor,” he said.

Prak Sophal, 60, said she had farmed nine hectares of land in the area since 1998 and has documents to prove she owns the plot.

“I joined the protest to demand a solution, and because we submitted a petition letter to the National Assembly a month ago but did not receive a reply,” she said.

Provincial governor Mao Thanin said he had assured the group that their concerns would be resolved.

“I already called my expert officials to discuss it and we will solve this problem following legal procedures,” he said.

Mr. Thanin said that technically the villagers were not involved in a dispute with MDS, as the company had only leased the land, so it still belonged to the state.

“As the authorities, we are like the parents of the people and we would never cause harm to our children,” he said, declining to answer questions about the demolition of the homes last week.

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