Authorities in Pailin province’s Sala Krao district on Saturday gave 19 families 15 days to dismantle their houses and vacate an area officials maintain is state land, despite the fact that the land was given to them by local authorities more than a decade ago.
Villager representative Orm Samath said yesterday that some 100 members of the police and armed forces had shoved and threatened residents, telling them to take down and move their homes and to stop building new ones, or risk having them destroyed.
“The provincial authorities told us not to build houses, and ordered us to move out in 15 days, and accused us of illegally settling on reserved state lands,” she said.
However, Samath said, the land in question was granted in five-hectare parcels to local families in 2000 by Pailin governor Y Chhien, who even handed out axes, hoes and machetes through the deputy commune chief so that villagers could clear and cultivate the land.
In 2005, she continued, a rubber plantation company called Sophany Export and Import started began encroaching on their land, and in 2006, after villagers protested against the company, authorities declared the area state land, and set it aside for a proposed airport.
Prak Sophima, a coordinator with the rights group Adhoc, said yesterday that negotiations between authorities and villagers had yielded no resolution.
“In the negotiation, on the villagers’ side, some families asked the authorities for compensation – five hectares of land per family, like in 2000, and land certificates for them – and some wanted to give up two hectares of land to the state as reserved land for their future plans [while keeping their other three hectares], but the authorities claimed that they could only give 20-metre-by-50-metres [0.1 hectare] per family,” she said.
Pailin provincial deputy governor Kert Sothea acknowledged yesterday that authorities had granted the land to villagers, but said that later the land had to be taken back after provinces were instructed by the government to set aside parcels of state land for future development.