Some Farmland to be Returned to Villagers

A lingering property dispute in Kompong Cham province is likely to end this week when the Agrostar company begins returning 150 hectares of farmland lost by local villagers after the agricultural business signed a cashew growing agreement with the government in the mid-1990s.

The deal marks a bittersweet resolution for Tropeang Snao village farmers, who maintain they have lost a total of 300 hectares to Agrostar.

“Representatives of the village are disappointed about this result because they lost half of the land,” said Legal Aid of Cambo­dia official George Cooper. “But the villagers had a weak legal position—they did not have land title certificates.”

The provincial land title department has already measured the land and is about to start issuing a land title certificate to roughly 200 village families who have been living on the land for years but were not registered in the country’s property system, Second Deputy Governor Mao Phirun said Sunday.

Each family will receive half a hectare of land in the deal, which was arranged by villagers, Agro­star representatives and the provincial government, and endorsed by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

The disputed land is part of 2,400 hectares that the government conceded to Agrostar, which agreed to grow cashew nuts for export to Vietnam, provincial officials said.

Trouble began in 1997 when Agrostar bulldozed under farms on the 300 hectares of village land, according to Legal Aid. The company also began harassing farmers there to keep them away from the plantation, Legal Aid officials said.

The villagers traveled to the capital five times to appeal the dispute to King Norodom Sihanouk, the National Assembly and Hun Sen, according to a statement from Legal Aid.

In April, Hun Sen ordered the government to resolve the dispute and the provincial land dispute committee, headed by Mao Phirun, intervened—proposing in late June that Agrostar return half the land. Agrostar also agreed to give up another 200 hectares of land to divide between families in Reang village.

Representatives of Agrostar could not be reached Sunday for comment.

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