Villagers in Banteay Meanchey province on Saturday protested against a local military official’s plan to build a reservoir on their land, then sell the dirt at a profit.
The reservoir is being dug over 52 hectares in Serei Saophoan City’s Kompong Svay commune by Brigadier General Plon Dara, commander of the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces in Banteay Meanchey.
According to villager Nem Chhun, 39, 120 people from 85 families who stand to lose their rice fields to the reservoir demonstrated outside the provincial government hall on Saturday after excavators moved in and began digging.
“We protested, demanding that the governor help us, because Mr. Plon Dara is digging up the rice fields and taking the earth for sale,” Ms. Chhun said Sunday, adding that she would lose a 2,500-square-meter plot of land if the digging continued.
“We will burn the excavators if they come back to dig up our rice fields,” she said.
Brigadier General Dara argued that the digging was lawful because his son, Plon Hong, received permission from the Ministry of Water Resources and the provincial government in 2008 to build a reservoir there for irrigation purposes.
“Provincial authorities allowed my family’s company to build the irrigation [reservoir],” he said. “The agreement stated that the company will take the earth from the rice fields and the state will get a water reservoir for irrigation.”
Ms. Chhun, however, said the planned reservoir would be of little use to the protesting villagers if they had no crops.
“We don’t need an irrigation system, because we will have lost all the land here. So how can we cultivate rice with that irrigation?” she said.
She also said the company had not shown residents a plan for the proposed reservoir, and that villagers believed the company was only seeking to excavate and sell the earth.
Provincial administration chief Chhoeun Krayong said the digging had been temporarily halted while local officials discuss the villagers’ demands.
They are asking the government to make the general’s company stop digging the reservoir and replace the earth that had been excavated so far, and are also seeking titles to their farmland, Mr. Krayong said.
“I told the [villager] representatives that we will find a solution for those families for the [first] two requests only, but we are not able to issue land titles for those families because this is state land,” he said.