Official Offers Concessions in Land Dispute

In a bid to resolve a violent land dispute, a government official promised Tuesday to build wells and a road in Kompong Speu pro­vince’s Phnom Sruoch district and cede 100 hectares of land to poor villagers.

You Ay, secretary of state at the Ministry of Women’s and Vete­rans’ Affairs, also offered amnesty to three accused land-grabbing ringleaders—one of whom is currently in Kompong Speu Provin­cial Prison—if they make a formal apology to Kompong Speu Provincial Court and thumbprint a statement swearing not to incite violence or take more of her land.

“I think it is a good solution,” she said Tuesday.

The offer came after dozens of villagers traveled to Phnom Penh and staged a peaceful protest on Tuesday in front of the National Assembly, asking for the release of leader Seng Sarath, who they say has committed no crime.

In Kompong Speu town Mon­day, a similar gathering turned violent as authorities re­portedly kicked and beat with electric batons more than 100 villagers, including a deaf boy and a physically disabled man, at­tempting to protest Seng Sarath’s arrest in front of provincial court.

In the dispute, which has continued for more than five years, villagers accused You Ay of forcing them to sell land be­low market value and bulldozing the land if they did no sell. You Ay said villager ringleaders sold her the land but then refused to move and invited others to settle.

In December 2003, villagers sent a letter to the Council of Ministers and Phnom Sruoch district and Treng Trayeung commune authorities asking for 800 hectares of land to farm, but they said they received no reply.

You Ay said she can give the villagers only 100 hec­tares of the nearly 1,000 hectares of land under her control. Those who receive the land will have to move from their village, Phum Tmei, she said, which is scheduled to become the site of a hospital and  commercial area.

Villagers expressed skepticism over the verbal offer, which was made during talks with Nuth Rum­duol, a Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker from Kompong Speu.

“I do not trust Chumteav You Ay’s promise to offer land to villagers,” said villager Seng Srey Mom, who attended both protests. “She has tried her best to evict us from the land, so why would she give us land now?”

Seng Borey, one of the ringleaders You Ay accused of violence, denied the accusations and said he would not admit to crimes he did not commit. He also worried she would not keep her promises.

You Ay said she will hold a ceremony Friday to formally hand over the land, which will go to the poorest of the families that inhabit the disputed area.

Villagers said more than 550 families now farm land claimed by You Ay. Protester Youy So­vann said that giving just a few residents land and evicting the rest “will cause problems among villagers.”


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