Villagers in Pursat province said yesterday they had staged a protest at Thma Da commune office Monday to voice their concern over a newly planned border crossing to Thailand, which they claimed would affect the farmland of around 50 families.
A local official denied the claim, saying only a few dozen hectares of farmland would be lost to developing the crossing.
Villager Long Pov, 38, said villagers from Sangkum Thmei village had protested at the commune office to persuade authorities to change the plans for developing the border crossing.
Mr Pov said villagers had seen government maps marking a 950-hectare development project and he claimed this area would cover farmland that 50 families had farmed during the past decade.
He said that after authorities parked a bulldozer on the farmland this weekend, villagers decided to stage a protest to prevent any land clearing.
“Villagers do not allow the bulldozer to clear our plantations because we have yet to be informed clearly about the compensation for losing our farmland,” he said, adding he feared losing 8 hectares of land.
Another villager, Yong Rem, also said she also believed her land could be developed.
“The government development project along the border is a great vision to alleviate poverty. [But] villagers worry the development project is being used to grab land from poor people,” she said.
Thma Da commune chief Prom Ngun confirmed the plans for a new border crossing complex, located around 200 km west of Pursat City, which would include casinos, hotels and border markets, and cover a total of 950 hectares.
Mr Ngun said although construction had yet to start, the crossing-which would lead to Thailand’s Trat province-could open soon.
He said the villagers’ concerns were unfounded, as only around 50 hectares of their farmland would be converted for development. Mr Ngun said he had not received any information about the possible compensation measures for affected villagers.
Ngeth Theavy, Pursat provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said the group was still investigating the villagers’ complaints.
She warned, however, that previous experiences with government development projects had shown compensation for affected village lands was generally “small” and “land [dispute] victims rarely get a fair treatment.”