About 100 villagers involved in two different land disputes in Kratie and Preah Vihear provinces converged on the National Assembly in Phnom Penh on Monday to ask the country’s lawmakers for help in settling their cases.
Roughly 60 of them had come from Preah Vihear, representing 253 families who were evicted from their farms near Preah Vihear temple in 2012 to make way for a new government building. The families say the 30-by-100-meter plots they have received at a relocation site in compensation are not enough and are demanding their old farmland back.
“We will go back to live on our old land if there is no resolution,” said Kim Somorn, who said she lost her 2-hectare farm when the state expropriated it.
Contacted afterward, CPP lawmaker Sous Yara, who represents the province, said efforts were underway to find the families additional farmland, but not near their old homes.
“We are looking for a piece of land to offer them 2 hectares someplace controlled by the Environment Ministry. We have promised that they will get 2 hectares in addition to their residential land,” he said.
Also gathered in front of the National Assembly on Monday morning were about 40 villagers from Kratie representing 104 families in a dispute over 250 hectares with a Vietnamese-owned rubber plantation, Binh Phuoc 2.
Authorities tried to settle the dispute in 2013 by cutting the contested land out of the plantation and letting the families living there stay. But the families say the authorities, in particular provincial governor Sar Chamrong, broke their promise to let them keep exactly as much land as they had. In April, authorities started making the families pick their new plots out of a blind draw, but some of the families are refusing to play along.
“We do not accept the new deal because they are offering 30 by 40 meters, but I had 3 hectares before,” said Ly Chheng, one of the protesters. “They come to intimidate us; they say if we do not do the draw, they will not let us live on the land anymore.”
He said authorities are also letting families who have never lived on the site draw for plots.
Contacted afterward, Mr. Chamrong said the draw was fair and declined to comment further.
At the National Assembly, the protesters remained outside for about 1 1/2 hours and left after a few villagers were allowed inside to lodge their petitions with the parliamentary human rights commission.