Claiming that local authorities have ignored their land-title certificates, villagers from Battambang province have asked the central government to force the return of properties the villagers say district and commune officials took from them.
Representatives of nearly 60 families from Kruos village in Anlung Run commune, about 30 km north of Battambang town, arrived in Phnom Penh last week to ask Prime Minister Hun Sen and other government officials to intervene, according to the human rights group Adhoc.
“We would like to let the government know the issue—the group has land titles but no land,” said Latt Ky, a land officer with Adhoc, which has monitored the years-old dispute.
He said the villagers contend they were given titles for more than 138 hectares of land in 1999. They originally were given the land after returning from Thai refugee camps in 1993, he said.
But authorities in Thmar Kol district and Anlung Run commune continued to control the land, ignoring the titles as well as a provincial authority’s order to hand the land back to the families, Latt Ky said.
The villagers now suspect the local authorities are attempting to sell the land to businesses for their own benefit, he said.
The villagers have complained to district and provincial authorities, but have still failed to get their land back. Appealing to the national government is the only hope they have left, Latt Ky said.
“We are all rice farmers and rely on our land for food,” villager Im Sarun said in a statement presented to government officials.
“If you take away our land, you take away our life,” he said.
Pa Socheatevong, second deputy governor of Battambang, said provincial authorities are intervening in the dispute, and he plans to send his staff to the disputed area.
With no land law, disputes similar to the Battambang incident are commonplace through out Cambodia. The result is hundreds of families are often left homeless.