About 200 villagers from Malai district, a former Khmer Rouge stronghold in Banteay Meanchey province, have come to Phnom Penh to inform the government that local officials have allegedly sold their farm land out from under them.
Opposite the National Assembly, the Malai villagers joined 100 former Thai border camp refugees from the province’s Preah Netr Preah district to demonstrate for government intervention in land disputes on Wednesday.
Most of the Malai villagers, from Tuol Pongror commune, declined to give their names, saying they feared retaliation.
Nuon Chamrong, who led the villagers, said the group represents 338 families from Malai, where villagers allege that commune and district officials colluded with a local military official to sell their land.
Villagers said that more than 50 farmers had been killed, lost limbs or been blinded by land mines and unexploded ordnances in the process of clearing the two-hectare plots of land granted to each family in a 1996 military re-integration program with the government, but that their farmland was taken from them in late 2002.
Despite losing their farmland, they have been able to keep living in their homes since then.
Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Kim Suor Phirith said he would deliver the villagers’ complaint to the National Assembly, adding that the land was taken by local authorities colluding with former Khmer Rouge soldiers who are now RCAF officials.
The value of land in Malai has increased fivefold since 2002, feeding the conflict, Kim Suor Phirith added.
Villager Pich Vannak said land values had skyrocketed because of rumors that Thailand would open another border crossing in the former stronghold area.
Malai Governor Tep Khunnal said he had negotiated a compromise between the villagers and former military officials to return all of the land to the farmers, adding that he was not sure why they had come to Phnom Penh.
“I don’t understand why they go there,” Tep Khunnal said. “I have tried my best to reach a compromise.”