Villagers Block Roads in Land Disputes in Kratie, Pursat

About 200 villagers clad in CPP T-shirts and baseball caps demonstrated Tuesday outside the Snuol commune office in Kratie province, demanding that provincial authorities issue land titles for them.

On Monday, the same group of protesters, who are involved in a dispute with a Korean company over 10,000 hectares of land, had blocked a stretch of National Road 7 in front of the commune office for three hours. Tuesday’s protest quickly ended when authorities invited the villagers inside to discuss their grievances in an attempt to prevent another roadblock.

“We cannot allow the road blockade to last for so long, so we facilitated a meeting on Tuesday,” said Snuol district governor Kong Kimny.

However, as of Tuesday evening, the dispute had not yet been resolved, and a district-level meeting on the issue is planned for today.

The protesters were representing more than 1,500 families who say that a company called Horizontal Agriculture Development was improperly granted 10,000 hectares of land in 2008 for a rubber plantation, although the families had been farming there since 2000.

Although most of the families involved in the dispute have been issued land titles under Prime Minister Hun Sen’s titling program, 329 families say they have been left out. They also complain that company guards have intimidated them.

Horizontal Agriculture, meanwhile, is demanding back 1,752 hectares that had been cut out of its concession and given to the 329 families under Mr. Hun Sen’s “tiger skin” policy, according to Snuol commune chief Van Doeun.

“The meeting at the commune office today had a negative result, since the company keeps a strong stance to demand back the land while villagers dare to die to protect their land,” Mr. Doeun said.

Horizontal Agriculture could not be reached for comment.

Also Tuesday, more than 100 villagers from four communes in Pursat province’s Krakor district temporarily surrounded excavators belonging to a company claiming 253 hectares of land that villagers say they have farmed since 1993, a rights worker said.

“The villagers surrounded the excavators and took their homemade trucks to block the company foreman’s [car], and then authorities called them to the district hall,” said Phuong Sothea, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc.

District police chief Bin Vanna said authorities were doing their best to find a solution that would be fair to the company, Ratanak Visal Development Co. Ltd., and the villagers.

Company representative Uon Nguon said the company had been given a 3,682-hectare land concession in 1999, but gave over 1,500 hectares back to villagers in 2012 to comply with the terms of Mr. Hun Sen’s land policy. Mr. Nguon also said that the company was not currently clearing the land of any villagers who had a hard title to their plot.

However, 36-year-old villager Chay Sinoeun said this was untrue. “The company is clearing my land, but not providing compensation, claiming that they are the owners of the land,” he said.

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