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Dispute heats up with national military troops

Commune authorities and 41 Oddar Meanchey families from Chheu Krom village staged a forum yesterday, accusing Royal Cambodian Armed Forces (RCAF) border soldiers of unlawfully grabbing their land and banning villagers from farming in the area.

The dispute, ongoing since 2008, has recently reached fever pitch as RCAF soldiers have erected formal fencing posts and military cottages on the 1,333 hectare disputed land, peaking villager fears that their arable farming land would soon disappear under a military base.

“They recently prohibited us from growing rice on our land, but our villagers have secretly planted their rice seeds there for years,” village representative Soeng Hieng said.

“We asked the soldiers if they plan to build a military fortress, and they responded that we should find another location [to live].”

Hieng said that families have farmed on the land since 1993 with ongoing disputes since 2008. “The soldiers told us that if we wanted to do farming on the land we needed an official order to do so,” he said.

Chhum Serei, RCAF solider and chief of the Ta Moan Temple Border Relations Working Group, was accused by villagers at the forum of encroaching on their land. Serei is involved with negotiating Thai-Cambodia bor­der disputes and now is a central character in the Chheu Krom village conflict.

He declined to comment on the dispute in detail, but stated: “There are no soldiers, and I don’t know who grabbed whose land. The villagers that maintain they are the owners of the land – do they have land titles or not?”

Despite provincial authorities’ previous attempts to compromise, with the latest meeting in July, there has not been a resolution. Village chief Chhum Nhory said that since the last meeting, soldiers have built two small cottages and posts to divide the land.

“We want the two sides to settle the dispute peacefully,” he said.

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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