Sixty-three villagers from Siem Reap province traveled to the capital this week to file complaints against government soldiers who they said are encroaching on their land.
The Banteay Srei district villagers staged a sit-in Monday outside the Ministry of Defense after soldiers forcibly removed them from their 251-hectare rice plantation last month, community representative Bun Hard said Wednesday.
“They promised to solve the problem within five days. If they don’t solve the problem, we will go to protest in front of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house,” he said.
The military has been destroying the plantation in accordance with a 2002 directive from the Ministries of Defense and Agriculture. The order calls for trees to be planted on 986 hectares of land, upon which the villagers have made their homes and livelihoods. Bun Hard said last month that 96 families received land titles to the plantation west of Phnom Kulen in 1997. But Banteay Srei district Governor Aung Vong denies that villagers were given title to the land.
More than half of the 96 villagers, now destitute with no source of income, have moved into Wat Savaron in Phnom Penh. They are subsisting on noodles and rice offered by monks and human rights groups, said Licadho monitoring coordinator Lam Sovathara.
Licadho has distributed 5 kg of rice, cooking oil, canned fish and medicine to each of the 63 villagers, he said Wednesday.
“We are investigating the case,” Lam Sovathara said, adding that Licadho has forwarded the villagers’ complaints to King Norodom Sihanouk.
Mei Pok, administration chief of the Defense Ministry’s inspection department, said Wednesday that he delivered the complaints to co-Ministers of Defense Prince Sisowath Sirirath and Tea Banh.
Prince Sirirath said he has not seen the villagers’ complaints but promised to resolve the problem once he examined all sides of the dispute.
“There are a lot of land encroachments made by the soldiers,” he said. “They took that land according to their position.”