A violent confrontation was averted Thursday in Kratie province when about 40 Kratie district villagers attempted to clear land granted to them as part of a social land concession but then found that it had already been claimed by other villagers, locals said Friday.
In 2008, Chang Krang commune authorities selected between 100 and 200 poor families to receive plots of land measuring between 2 and 3 hectares in an area known as Intry Krahorm, or Red Eagle, after their own land was granted to a private firm as an economic land concession, villager Leung Leng, 42, said by telephone.
He said that Thursday, local authority held a meeting with the villagers and gave each family an axe and a machete to clear their social concession plots.
“Actually, the land distributed to us as a social concession was being claimed and used by more than 100 other villagers [already],” Leung Leng said. “We just confronted them briefly and then we all decided to turn back, as we did not want to spill the blood of other poor villagers,” he added.
Fellow land claimant Yuong Sam An, 48, said by telephone Friday that local authorities are pitting poor villagers against each other in order to give their land to rubber plantation developer Harmony Plantation. Some of the villagers granted the social land concessions claim their land was plowed over by the developer in November.
“The commune authority has tricked ordinary citizens into confronting other poor villagers over land,” Yuong Sam An said, adding that the local authority has asked villagers to keep quiet while a resolution is worked out with the 136 families that had already claimed the allotted land.
“We would not allow the company to clear our land, and we will not permit the commune authority to relocate villagers to grab other people’s land,” Yuong Sam An said.
Chang Krang commune police chief Lim Ratha said Harmony Plantation Co has been granted 999 hectares of land in the commune in an economic land concession from the government.
He said that the dispute over the social land concession is unrelated to the dispute with the developer.
Tim Narin, provincial coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said local authorities must immediately resolve the conflict between villagers or risk a violent confrontation.
“The two parties are both impoverished people,” she said. “Each party needs the land for living and farming.”