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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Families forced from land as Vietnamese border dispute flares

Families forced from land as Vietnamese border dispute flares

A BOUT one thousand families along the Vietnamese border in Kompong Cham province have been evicted from their land, victims of an international border dispute.

Both Cambodia and Vietnam claim the land the families have farmed for years in Memot and Krek districts.

The villagers used to pay "taxes" to Vietnamese officials to tend their plots of land but have now been told to leave for good.

"That's our land," said an angry Don Chey, 55, who used to farm in Da village. "I have worked there since I was young."

Chey said that, from 1987, Vietnamese authorities demanded money or rice to allow the villagers to continue farming.

They used to charge 10,000 to 20,000 riels, or one sack of rice, per each hectare farmed.

'They claimed we were working on their land," said Chey. "I think that was wrong but we (paid) because there was nothing else to do.

"Now they do not accept any pay and they also do not allow the villagers to work in the fields any more."

Vong Ban, 25, a farmer in Da Kandal village, was recently arrested and fined 25,000 riel by Vietnamese officials while cutting grass in his cattle field.

"My villagers and I have nothing to do now; they took our land. We cannot even step on it, and we can do nothing because they have the weapons."

Ban said some villagers' cows were taken away by the Vietnamese, who refused to return them when asked by Cambodian policemen.

He complained Cambodian officials had done nothing else to try to help he and his compatriots.

He had lost three hectares of land, and had been forced to rent fields from other villages further away.

Cambodian farmers in Memot and Krek districts have lost a total of about 870 hectares of land, according to a report to the Cambodian Co-Prime Ministers from Kompong Cham provincial governor Hun Neng. However, some communes have not recorded their land loss.

The governor said the Vietnamese could move border signs but not landmarks such as pagodas, villages and roads. In Svay Rieng province, one Cambodian temple was on land that was claimed as Vietnamese territory.

A total of 1200 square km of border land in Takeo, Prey Veng, Svay Rieng, Kompong Cham and Kampot provinces is in dispute.

Negotiations between Cambodia and Vietnam in the late 1980s produced an agreement but that was canceled because it did not match the reality of who was occupying the areas, according to Houn Sa Vong, the director of the Geographic Department.

He said a widely-cited map made by France in 1954 was not fair, as the French had favored Vietnam because they had a closer relationship with that country.

During the Lon Nol and Pol Pot regimes, fighting between the two countries had seen frequent border changes.

The Royal Cambodian Government this year set up a border committee group, headed by the Co-Prime Ministers, to consider both land and sea border lines.

Prince Norodom Ranariddh has said the committee would collect documentation on the matter before talking to the Vietnamese government.

"It is not a simple thing to talk with the Vietnamese. We have to be careful about it. If we lose the talks, we will lose our land forever; and our next generations will complain," the Prince said.

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