Ethnic minority families in Ratanakkiri province are appealing to Prime Minister Hun Sen to prevent local CPP officials from evicting them from land the villagers say is rightfully theirs, villagers and a rights worker said Sunday.
In the latest development of a land dispute that started in 1999, provincial CPP officials called the 25 families to a meeting at the provincial court on Friday, said Touch Chhunly, a villager representative.
“Those CPP officials threatened to use tractors to demolish and clear our homes and crops after we rejected leaving” the disputed land, he said.
The land is located in Pram village in Banlung district’s Laban Siek commune, a short distance from the provincial office. Touch Chhunly claimed that CPP provincial officials Chheng Sopheap and San Bunchhoeurn are trying to seize 1.8 hectare of land to sell it for their own benefit to a wealthy businessman for $500,000.
In a speech on Dec 7, Hun Sen warned officials to stop grabbing farmers’ land for personal gain. “Otherwise a farmer revolution can happen,” he warned.
“Samdech Hun Sen’s words are in support of villagers,” said Touch Chhunly, “because his officials are working for their own interest.”
The villagers sent their appeal to the prime minister to the provincial office of the rights NGO Adhoc on Saturday, said Pen Bonnar, Adhoc provincial coordinator. Their letter will be forwarded to the Council of Ministers on Wednesday, he said.
The families were offered 10-by-50 meter plots of land in a remote area with no road to it, said villager Chum Sokhay. “Our children in particular would be at risk of losing access to schools,” she said, adding that there is no access to drinking water at the new location.
Chheng Sopheap and San Bunchhoeurn could not be contacted on Sunday. But Ratanakkiri Governor Muong Poy, who is chief of the CPP office, said land closer to town is not available for the villagers to be relocated to.
The contested land, which is to soon be developed into a hotel and entertainment area, will not be sold to a wealthy businessman, he said. Asked who would be investing in the project, Muong Poy did not say, although he mentioned that the land-title holder was an official at the CPP provincial office.
Touch Chhunly claims the families have been living on that land since the 1980s, while Muong Poy said only one lived there at that time and that the others arrived from 2000 onwards. A first complaint to have villagers evicted was filed against seven families in 1999, the second against 25 families in 2004, Muong Poy said.