Representatives of 148 families from Siem Reap province wrote to UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan on Friday, asking him to help stop the government from evicting them from their land to make way for hotels.
The villagers, from Chong Kaosou village, Slar Kram commune, informed Annan that they were given the land by the government and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in 1992, after returning from refugee camps on the Thai border under agreements reached at the Paris Peace Accords in 1991.
In separate letters, they also appealed to King Norodom Sihamoni and Prime Minister Hun Sen for assistance.
The Apsara Authority, the government organization managing the Angkor complex, and military police are trying to evict the villagers, they charged in the letter.
“There are no laws allowing the Apsara Authority to confiscate land from the villagers to build hotels, but the authority must buy [land] from us at free market prices,” the villagers wrote.
Due to the low fertility of the land where the villagers are living, and the pressure of tourism in Siem Reap, the government in 1995 established a special zone there devoted to developing hotels, museums and international conference halls, Mao Vibol, assistant to Apsara Director General Bun Narith said Monday.
Because of this, the government can compensate the villagers at a lower-than-market price for their land and evict them if necessary, Mao Vibol said.
Most of the villagers are being offered $2 per square meter for their land, which is situated on prime real estate, Bun Narith said.
But Mao Vibol said that some villagers have accepted compensation, left and then returned to occupy the land asking for more money.
Thamrongsak Meechubot, UNHCR country representative, said Monday that he was unfamiliar with the exact details of land arrangements made for refugees returning from the camps.
But, he said, “the people got documents, and they have ownership of the land and it’s up to them what they want to do.”