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Coercion used for land deal: villagers

A GROUP of 51 families from Popoak commune in Kampong Thom province’s Steung district say they were forced to thumbprint an unfair compensation agreement on Wednesday under pressure from commune authorities and representatives of the Vietnamese rubber company hoping to clear the area for a plantation.

“They made us agree to take only 5,000 riels (US$1.69) per cashew tree, which is unacceptable,” said village representative So Ley. “They told us that if we did not agree to their terms, they would simply clear the land without paying us.”

Villager Phorn Yi dismissed as a pretext the officials’ further claim that the cashew farms were planted illegally in a protected wildlife area.

“We’ve farmed here since 1999, and in all that time nobody told us it was a problem. Now that the authorities are helping this company, it’s suddenly illegal,” he said.

Popoak commune chief Sam Sang, however, said the villagers were aware of the land’s status when they began farming there.

“In1993, the area was made a wildlife preserve by Royal Decree. The villagers took over the land to plant cashews in 2002, so they should understand why their farms can only be considered temporary. They have no permanent right to this land.”

In November 2009, Cambodia signed a memorandum of understanding with the Vietnam Rubber Group, a consortium of 14 Vietnamese firms, granting them 100,000 hectares of land concessions. The company involved in the Popoak commune dispute, CKCRII, received a 7,300-hectare concession under the agreement.

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