More than 100 Kompong Cham villagers demonstrated in front of provincial government offices Friday, claiming their communal land was being taken for use in government research, a human rights investigator said Sunday.
The villagers from Tbong Khmum district said police last week went to their communal land and planted small rubber trees, said Lon Sinet, human rights investigator for the Khmer Youth Association, a local NGO.
The Cambodian Rubber Research Institute, part of the Ministry of Agriculture, wants to turn the land into a demonstration field for research in growing rubber, he said.
The site, about 27 hectares, was the site of an airport used by French officials during colonial times, Lon Sinet said. It has been used by the villagers since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979, Lon Sinet said.
Because it is valuable high ground, villagers herd their cattle there during flood periods, he said. They also sow rice there for transplanting in their own fields after the water recedes, he said.
“This is a kind of human rights violation, for the government to grab the land from the people,” he said, adding that if the land is taken, “the condition of the people will diminish.”
So Siphean, assistant to Kompong Cham Governor Chean Am, said the governor met the villagers Friday afternoon and agreed to intervene on their behalf. Kompong Cham officials and Phnom Penh agriculture officials will go to the area to investigate this week, he said.
Ministry of Agriculture Secretary of State May Sam Oeun said he was not aware of the dispute or the research institute’s plans. Minister of Agriculture Chan Sarun was not available for comment Sunday.