Pursat Villagers Look to Hun Sen, King for Help With Land

Frustrated by Pursat provincial authorities’ failure to resolve their land dispute, five villagers who claim their farms are being swallowed up by an economic land concession have come to Phnom Penh to appeal to the prime minister and King Norodom Sihamoni for help, villagers and officials said yesterday.

The five hope to deliver petitions today, affixed with the thumbprints of more than 100 affected residents from Veal Veng district’s Thma Da commune, to Prime Minister Hun Sen, King Sihamoni and other institutions, including the Anticorruption Unit, villager By Born said.

“Only our highly respected King and Prime Minister Hun Sen could help relocate the concession,” he said.

The villagers want authorities to redefine the boundaries of a 2,250-hectare land concession, granted to prominent businessman Try Pheap’s MDS development company, so that it does not infringe upon villagers’ land, Mr Born said. According to a copy of the petition obtained yesterday, residents claim they have owned the affected land since 1998. The petition tells the stories of villagers who died or lost limbs to unexploded ordnance while clearing the area.

Villagers have raised the issue with provincial authorities but decided to come to Phnom Penh after facing “in­timidation by the company and officials,” Mr Born said.

Provincial governor Khoy Sokha yesterday asked for the five to return.

“They shouldn’t have gone to Phnom Penh because our provincial committee is waiting for them…to give us their complaint and other documents to prove their legal ownership,” he said.

Mr Sokha denied the villagers’ accusations of intimidation.

“Both the company and authorities here have never intimidated or used violence…. We, instead, have faced intimidation…because plenty of these protesters are not local farmers; they are outsiders who illegally purchased the land,” he said.

Thma Da commune chief Prum Ngun said the dispute went beyond his ability to resolve it. He advocated a more philosophical view yesterday.

“We need investment here in this remote area. I wanted the villagers to understand and contribute some pieces of farmland to the developing company,” he said.

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