Facing an eviction deadline at the end of the Pchum Ben holiday, hundreds of villagers in Kandal province marked the first day of the 15-day festival yesterday by asking the spirits to intervene on their behalf in a long running land dispute.
In 2006 Heng Development claimed and bulldozed 10,000 hectares in Takhmau City and Stung Kandal district that included the farmland of nearly 300 villagers, though the company left villagers’ homes behind. A village representative and rights worker said yesterday that the company in a July 26 letter demanded villagers leave their homes and that a pagoda also be vacated to make way for a plantation.
“We are praying that the company returns our land to us, that the company be good, but if the company does not return the land to our villagers the company will suffer…and the scared spirits will destroy the company by light and dark ways,” said villager representative Ly Seiha through a loud speaker. He claims to have lost eight hectares of farmland.
Ouch Leng, the provincial monitor for the rights group Adhoc, said the ceremony shows the villagers’ desperation in keeping their homes and the pagoda.
“It is a message sent to the government to focus on the villagers’ problem because our villagers lost their confidence in the government to solve the villager’s problem. So only the sacred spirits in the world can help them,” he said.
He said that Kandal Provincial Court judgments on Oct 2, 2006, and Feb 26, 2007, gave land rights to the 292 families living in three communes. The company has ignored that ruling, he said.
Representatives for Heng Development could not be reached yesterday, but Heng Development president Seng Chanheng, said earlier this week that the pagoda was built on land that the company owned, and that the monks who live there had volunteered to leave after they were offered compensation.
Kandal provincial governor Chhun Sirun said he was not familiar with the case.
“We are busy with our Pchum Ben holiday, please don’t ask me about the curses against the company,” he said.