About 500 villagers involved in a protracted land dispute with a rubber company blocked National Road 7 in Tbong Khmum province’s Memot district on Thursday to demand titles to land they say they have lived on since 1980.
Holding images of Prime Minister Hun Sen and his wife, Bun Rany, the villagers blocked the major highway from 8:30 a.m. until 11:30 a.m. in front of the district offices and blasted their demands through loudspeakers.
Prum Danet, 48, a representative of the protesters, said by telephone after the protest that about 500 families had since the fall of the Khmer Rouge lived on the land now held by Memot Rubber Plantation through a concession.
“We went there for an inter- vention to solve our problem with Memot Rubber Plantation and demanded that the authorities issue a land title to us,” Ms. Danet said.
“We have been living on these 20 hectares of land since 1980 and we have never faced any problems until 2008. Ever since 2008, people have tried to evict us without compensation, so we are not going anywhere.”
Ms. Danet said the villagers lived in houses on the edge of the formerly state-owned plantation and had done so since local authorities in 1980 asked them to move there to provide a buffer to returning Khmer Rouge guerrillas.
“We only want one house for each family and for the authorities to issue land titles to us to protect our small pieces of land from being grabbed by the big companies.”
“If there is no solution after two weeks, we will protest and throw our tents, pots and pans at provincial hall.”
Sreng Soyne, a representative of the Memot Rubber Planta- tion, said new housing had been provided to the villagers on the land as part of the firm’s 2008 concession.
“We are renting the land from the government and the authorities have already moved the villagers to a new location, so why are they still complaining?” he said.
“About 90 percent of the people have accepted the move. Only a small percentage continues to argue.”
Memot district Governor Cheng Bun Dara said he would discuss the issue with provincial officials but would need the entirety of the two weeks requested by protesters.
“We cannot respond to them right now because the authorities are busy with the Water Festival,” he said.
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