Villagers Rally Against Loss of Their Property

More than 100 villagers from Koh Kong province rallied Tues­day for the third time in two years outside the Interior Mini­stry in Phnom Penh to protest the loss of their land in 2005.

Villagers representative Chin Savandeth, 49, claimed that 352 hectares of farmland in Keo Phos village of Sre Ambel district’s Chroy Svay commune were illegally claimed by a Phnom Penh businessman in 2005 and then bulldozed in 2006. The businessman has since hired soldiers and policemen to guard the land and intimidate farmers, Chin Savan­deth alleged.

“Every night, soldiers and police fire at least 10 to 15 bullets. We are scared from the gun’s sound every night,” said Chin Savandeth, adding that 20 to 40 soldiers are permanently stationed around the fields.

Interior Ministry Secretary of State Nuth Sa An said his ministry will investigate the case and find a solution.

“We have sent our colleagues to research this case for more information. We will call both sides to resolve their dispute peacefully,” he said by telephone Tuesday.

Chin Savandeth said the villagers first protested outside the Interior Ministry in June 2006 and again in November 2007. An in­spector from the Interior Min­istry visited the village in 2007 and reported back to Nuth Sa An, but no word was heard again from the ministry, Chin Savan­deth claimed.

“We have no land for farming in the rainy season,” he said, ad­ding that the villagers have a letter from a Sre Ambel district land management official alleging that the businessman’s title for the disputed land is fake.

“We would never sell our farming land to him,” said Va Hor, 34, another villager representative.

Nuth Sa An said this is one of many land disputes bogging down Interior Ministry investigators, noting that he’d just returned from investigating a land dispute in Ratanakkiri province.

“We have many land dispute problems, so we are very busy with our task,” he said.

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