Villagers Protest, Claim Gov’t Is Land-Grabbing

More than 100 people burned tires and protested what they said was the government’s unlawful bulldozing of their land in Phnom Penh’s Dangkao district on Su­day.

Officials have bulldozed fences and some land behind houses in Trapaing Por village in Kok Rokha commune to build a dam and a road, villagers and district officials said Sunday. District officials say the villagers are squatters and that the land owner has ordered the work, but the villagers said Sunday that the land belongs to them.

“[Officials] are grabbing our land. We have lived on it for many years,” said Meas Thoeun, 44. He has lived on his plot of land since 1997, he said.

Demonstrator Soeurng Yun, 38, said the 43 families living on the contested land filed complaints with district and municipal authorities in April to solve the dispute. “But we received no re­sponse and no solution…. They just appeared this weekend with bulldozers and an excavator and did not tell us a thing,” he said.

District deputy governor Mey Mon, who led the bulldozing, said the villagers have no legal claim to the land. He said the legal owner, who he identified as Teng Seng, bought the land in 1994 from 1,300 families and has documents from the sellers and local authorities.

The owner is acting within his rights to request construction on his land, Mey Mon said.

“We are acting on the landowner’s request. He asked the municipality’s permission to build a dam and a fence along his 51 hectares of land.” Mey Mon said Sunday.

He said that officials are not removing people’s houses, only clearing enough land to build a dam and a road.

“But if in the future, the municipality needs to extend the road, the people will be evicted because they are illegally living on the land,” he said.

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