Commune Officials Ask PM To Settle Dispute

CPP commune council officials in Kandal province’s Khsach Kan­dal district called Friday for Prime Minister Hun Sen to solve a long-running dispute over a water irrigation system that has already led several commune officials to boycott their own council office.

More than 400 local families have also joined the protest by the officials in the district’s Vihear Sour commune where a decade-long dispute over forest clearing and damage to a state-owned irrigation system has split the village into two rival groups, CPP first deputy commune chief Meng Chheang Heng said.

“I have decided to not show up for work until the district governor can find a fair solution for our people,” Meng Chheang Heng said by telephone, adding that he ceased going to work at his commune office in April.

Sin Yoan, also a CPP commune council member who has refused to work at his office, said the prime minister is scheduled to visit the area on Monday.

At issue is access to a 3.5 million-cubic-liter reservoir in the commune that was repaired by Hun Sen in 2002 at a cost of $100,000, said CPP commune council official Ek Chhean.

Following renovation of the reservoir, a group of 47 families cleared 69 hectares of land, some of which they sold to speculators. The families not only cleared state-owned forest but they also operate a thriving business raising lotus plants inside the reservoir, Ek Chhean said.

More than 440 families living in the vicinity of the reservoir rely on it for crop irrigation and fear the lotus plant businesses are damaging the reservoir’s banks, which could mean catastrophe for everyone.

District governor Chem Visoth said he has tried to solve the dispute but to no avail.

“The villagers do not listen to me and they do not listen to lower levels of authority,” Chem Visoth said. “My stance is that we support the interests of the majority of the people who need water for rice farming,” he said.

Funcinpec lawmaker Khieu San, who has tried to help broker a deal between the villagers, said the 47 families should be allowed to continue their lotus business as long as they ceased clearing forest and damaging the reservoir.

“But until now I never saw them break the irrigation system by growing lotus in it,” he added.



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