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End sought to 10-year row

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Koh Kong villagers have been locked in a dispute with Chinese firm Union Development Group. Heng Chivoan

End sought to 10-year row

Representatives of villagers locked in a land dispute for more than a decade said they have handed petitions to the EU, US and Chinese embassies and the land management and environment ministries in a bid to bring about a speedy solution to the ongoing case.

The villagers from Koh Kong’s Koh Sdech and Samrong communes in Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts have been locked in the dispute with Chinese firm Union Development Group since the company cleared 170ha of farmland claimed as ancestral and occupied by the petitioners since 1980.

District level officials said the case is being processed, while Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post that the ministry had “solved the issue” but an inter-ministerial committee had found “irregularities”.

“We submitted petitions because of the land disputes. We have asked for interventions and submitted petitions many times but there has been no solution for the last 10 years."

“The company has cleared our houses and destroyed our crops because it wanted to get our land,” Saing Puy, a representative of the 77 families from Kiri Sakor and Botum Sakor districts, told The Post on Tuesday.

“We have sought intervention from local authorities many times. However they said they cannot provide any solution. They said we are not part of a commune and so cannot help us. They can only help people who live in a commune."

“We all have land titles. When we demanded [our rights] the authorities said they needed time to understand the situation. They have studied it for more than 10 years but there is still no solution. That’s the reason we submitted petitions [at ministries and embassies].”

‘Irregularities’

Ministry of Environment spokesman Neth Pheaktra told The Post that the ministry had received the villagers’ petitions but said it had encountered irregularities.

“The ministry has already inspected, solved the issue and continues to provide solutions for the people who still have issues. The inter-ministerial committee [working on the case] has found some irregularities."

For example, some protesters use the name of husbands, wives and children as land owners. Some families demanded 70ha for each person. Some people live in Phnom Penh but claimed they own the plots of land in the disputed area,” he said.

Som Thy, a representative of Kiri Sakor district, told The Post on Tuesday that for more than 10 years Union Development Group has prohibited them from farming and growing crops, with the company clearing houses, burning crops and prohibiting them from getting onto their farmland.

“I ask the government, especially the prime minister, to intervene to return our land because we don’t have land to farm and raise crops to feed ourselves,” he said.

Kiri Sakor District Governor Khim Chandy said the provincial authority has the mechanisms to solve the land dispute. The committee was chaired by Environment Minister Say Samal who established an inter-ministerial committee to solve the issue.

“The land disputes in two areas, Koh Sdech and Phnhi Meas communes, have been solved. There were a few people for who a solution has not been found."

“The land was measured before the [July 29 national] elections. However national authorities, including the Ministry of Environment that headed the inter-ministerial committee, have not yet decided on who and how many people would receive their plots of land.”

Provincial environment department director Mam Phalla told The Post that an inter-ministerial committee and provincial authorities are working on finding a solution to the land disputes.

“The team has already measured the land the government has decided to award the villagers. We completed the work already. We collected documents and sent them to the higher authorities to check and decide,” he said.

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