Malai Villagers in Phnom Penh To Protest Alleged Land Grab

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.”

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