Officials Visit O’Smach, Urge Change

o’smach, Oddar Meanchey province – Generally neglected for more than a year by the party they supported as soldiers and civilians during the factional fighting of 1997 and 1998, residents here finally got attention from top Funcinpec officials.

Former resistance commander Nhiek Bun Chhay visited this remote border area with a delegation of 21 senators and National Assembly members last week.

He blasted provincial authorities here, many from his own Funcinpec party, for allegedly taking money meant for hundreds of families displaced by the construction of a market and casino.

Nhiek Bun Chhay, now the first vice president of the Senate, toured the area Wednesday and Thursday—making a point of publicly demanding that 496 families be compensated for their land, which has been targeted for development.

“They have lived here for a long time…so you could not force them to move unless they receive compensation,” Nhiek Bun Chhay said.

Only 191 families have received any compensation, but local residents claim these families did not originally live on the disputed land and should not be paid.

Second deputy provincial governor Moeurng Kell (Fun) denied that the families’ money and materials were being stolen. He also maintained that those already compensated are part of the 496 families. Moeurng Kell explained the slow pace of repayment by saying authorities have to wade through hundreds of false claims to the compensation.

“Families from other provinces who are not the real residents come here, claiming they were here longer and asking for compensation,” he said. “It is a very complicated problem.”

Residents agree that many requesting compensation do not deserve it. But they also say that authorities have brought in family members from other provinces and given them the land, money and building materials meant for them. The authorities then take a commission, according to Chea Sovanna, a former resistance soldier now living in the area.

While each family should receive about $540, those who have been compensated have only been given approximately $270, Nhiek Bun Chhay said.

Senator Kem Sokha (Fun) said he would request the government re-investigate a compensation agreement between the families and provincial authorities, saying he believed the residents’ accusations. “I am sure there is corruption among the authorities, but it is inevitable,” he said.

Land-grabbing has become an increasingly public problem in Cambodia as victims in recent months have traveled to Phnom Penh to camp outside the National Assembly in protest—often for weeks at a time. Residents from O’Smach are among those who have camped in what was known as Democracy Square in 1998.

While the government has acknowledged their complaints, most victims have returned to the provinces with little compensation—often rice—and no resolution to their problem.

Rights workers and opposition party leader Sam Rainsy have weighed in on the issue, visiting the squatter camps that frequently appear in the park opposite the National Assembly building.

But Nhiek Bun Chhay’s appearance in O’Smach is the most concrete step made by a member of Funcinpec towards addressing the problem.

 

 

 

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