One hundred and fifty families in Banteay Meanchey province who claim that they were awarded a 150-hectare social land concession in 1998 said yesterday that they are at serious risk of losing their land to a local developer.
Local authorities, however, said that the villagers violently grabbed and illegally cleared the state-owned land in Svay Chek district’s Slakram commune.
District Governor Khou Pov, who was appointed nine months ago, said that the land in question was actually confiscated from the villagers in 2006 during a crackdown on illegal clearing and that that he was unaware of any social land concession granted to the families.
“This dispute is still going on because it is involved with second and third parties who have purchased land from each other,” Mr Pov said. “I believe the protesters are land buyers, not local residents,” he claimed.
Villagers said yesterday they were unaware that their ownership of the land had been terminated in 2006, and claimed that commune authorities and forestry administration officials have tried to arrest people who attempted to harvest their rice and cassava crops.
Nguon, a villager who declined to provide his family name for fear of retaliation, said the families living on the land were repatriated refugees from camps along the Thai border who returned to Cambodia in 1993. The villagers claimed that they have proof of their ownership of the concession, including a document signed by former provincial governor Duong Khem.
“I think our land will be confiscated and given to a wealthy businesswoman,” said a villager who gave his name as Vien, adding that about 1,000 hectares have already been cleared nearby the land in question. Protesters halted the firm’s workers from bulldozing their crops last week, he said.
Contacted by phone yesterday, commune chief Khuon Huon said that local developer, Chak Puok Co, Ltd, which is owned by wealthy businesswoman Chak Puok, has been given a 30-year lease on approximately 5,000 hectares of land, including the disputed social concession, in order to “replant trees, including acacias.”