About 50 people protested in front of Pailin Provincial Hall yesterday against a government plan to turn their farmland in Sala Krao district into a special economic zone (SEZ), villagers and officials said.
Kong Sok, a village representative from Stung Trang commune, said that government-owned bulldozers and trucks had been attempting to clear their land since 2006, but that villagers had always managed to prevent the land from being cleared.
But over the past three days, Mr. Sok said, about 30 to 40 members of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces had started guarding the land, which is farmed by about 300 families.
“Villagers used to stop those trucks successfully, but this time villagers dare not go there because they are worried about their safety,” said Mr. Sok, adding that most of the villagers have used the land since 2002 for growing crops.
Chao Khan, provincial deputy Cabinet chief, said that the 2,102 hectares of contested land belongs to the state and that the area would be transformed into an SEZ.
“It is the villagers that abuse the government land. They took the government land and illegally grew crops of corn, bean and rice,” said Mr. Khan, adding that the troops had been stationed on the land to protect state property.
In a separate land dispute in Siem Reap City, police told 394 families living along the river in Sala Kamroeuk, Slakram, Svay Dangkum and Siem Reap communes that they had until April 1 to relocate to a nearby resettlement site in Sambuor commune.
Tep Bun Chhay, Siem Reap City governor, said that the majority of the 394 families had agreed to move to the new site to make way for a project to build gardens and parks along the river.
But on Friday, Sala Kamroeuk village chief Sam Kamsab said that 53 families refused to move and would fight the eviction, as they were worried that they would lose out financially by moving to land of lesser value. Mr. Kamsab declined to comment yesterday.