S Reap Villagers Contest Plantation Clearing village planta

The military has been destroying a 251-hectare village plantation in Siem Reap province since August, claiming that the villagers are trespassing on military land.

Nuov Ol, the Military Region 4 chief in charge of tree planting, said that he is destroying the plantation in accordance with a 2002 directive from the Ministries of Defense and Agriculture ordering tree planting on 986 hectares that included the plantation.

“I did this according to the directive. This is the national in­terest. It is not in my unit’s interest,” he said.

The villagers say that they are starving without their source of food. “Since the military de­stroyed our plantation, 80 percent of the villagers don’t have rice to eat,” said Bun Hard, the community representative. “We can’t leave the land because it will take a long time to grow the plantation back.”

According to Bun Hard, 96 fam­ilies were given land titles by the commune after they moved from across the country in 1997 to the 251 hectares of land in Banteay Srei district, west of Phnom Kulen.

Luon An, director of the pro­v­ince’s Department of Land Man­­agement, Urban Planning and Construction, said that the villagers were given land titles by authorities, and that the land does not belong to the military.

Banteay Srei District Governor Aung Vong said that district au­thorities never gave the villagers land titles. “It is illegal for them to live on the land. We want to grow a tree on the land to make Phnom Kulen more beautiful,” he said.

Bun Hard said villa­g­ers offered the government 220 hectares in 2002, but the offer was declined. He cited military corruption as the reason for the destruction. “They destroyed our plantation because they hope that when we lack food we will leave the land, and then they will sell it,” he said.

Now the villagers are adamant that they will stay. “Since the military encroached our land, we are not afraid of death,” he said. “We will stay on the land.”

Siem Reap Provincial Agri­culture Department Director Tat Bun­choeun said that the Ministry of Agriculture had urged the Agriculture Department to plant trees on the land, and had asked the Region 4 military to help plant trees. He said that he is investigating the situation.

“If those villages were formed a long time ago, we will let them stay,” he said. “But I heard that those villages have just formed.”

The provincial governor said that he is planning potential resettlement locations for the village with the provincial authorities. “[The destruction] doesn’t mean that we don’t care of them,” he said. “As an authority, we will discuss to find land for them.”

According to Bun Hard, 20 villagers tried to photograph the mil­itary’s actions. In response, the military police shot six times into the land near the villagers’ feet.

Nuov Ol denied that the military shot at the villagers, but admitted that soldiers shot one time in the air to frighten the villagers from ap­proaching the trucks. He said that the villagers wanted to burn them, so he ordered the soldiers to prevent damage to the trucks.

Nuov Ol has now paused his work and is waiting for local au­th­orities to resolve the land dispute.

 

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