About 100 villagers in Kompong Cham have been in Phnom Penh over the past week to protest their continued displacement, despite a directive by Prime Minister Hun Sen nearly a year ago that should have guaranteed their land back.
About 300 hectares of land in Rokah Por Pram commune, Tbong Khmum district, is still being held by a rubber company, as part of 2,000 hectares originally seized in 1997, according to George Cooper, a legal adviser for Legal Aid of Cambodia.
That provincial authorities have allowed this to happen, disregarding a direct order from the prime minister and the Council of Ministers, is “unimaginable,” Cooper said, “unless someone very powerful is behind them.”
Authorities have been “100 percent vague” about a solution during the past week, said Cooper, who is representing the villagers.
Kompong Cham Governor Cheang Am said Wednesday night that he is trying to follow Hun Sen’s directive on the “complicated” dispute between “people and people.” Some of the displaced people, he said, are claiming the same land occupied by employees of a nearby private rubber company.
According to documents, Cheang Am sent a letter to Hun Sen’s cabinet in May 1999 asking for swift resolution of the dispute, as he had delegates of the families waiting in his office for a reply. The families were threatening to protest in Phnom Penh.
“Please intervene in this matter,” the governor wrote.
The reply signed and dated by Hun Sen the same day stated: “I have discussed this with [co-Interior Minister] Sar Kheng. We agree on the proposals of the people. Deliver all the land to the people who used to work on it.”
The next day, Sok An, minister of the Council of Ministers, issued an official directive to Cheang Am ordering the land to be returned to the families.
“The government cancels all decisions made by local authorities, and the land titles, which violate the people’s land illegally,” Sok An wrote.
Now, though, nearly a year later, the villagers contend that 300 hectares still remain in the hands of the rubber company.
Seng Vanthy, deputy director of the country’s rubber department, would only say Wednesday that according to government records, the land is state-owned.
(Additional reporting by Lor Chandara and Kimsan Chantara)