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Hundreds protest over land grant

More than 500 villagers from Battambang province’s Sampov Loun district gathered yesterday to protest against a land concession of more than 4,000 hectares that they say will push them off their farmland.

The villagers were joined by Sam Rainsy Party lawmaker Mu Sochua, who said the 70-year, 4,095-hectare land concession, awarded in March to Suon Mean Sambath Company, had been granted on the land of more than 1,000 families in Sampov Loun’s Serei Meanchey commune.

“The developments of the government nowadays are harmful to the people,” she said. “The people’s suggestion is for the government to think of the people first before thinking about companies.”

Villagers who have been using land within the concession will be allowed to keep a maximum of just five hectares of land, Mu Sochua added, with the company offering them US$200 for every hectare of farmland they have beyond five hectares.

Representatives from Suon Mean Sambath could not be reached for comment.

Yun Chanthol, a villager from Serei Meanchey’s Thlok Sangke village, said she had occupied 15 hectares of land in the area since 2000, and that she had invested a good deal of money clearing and farming the land over the years.

“They said this is state land,” she said. “If this is state land, why didn’t they stop the people when we cleared that land?”

Or Bunthen, from Serei Meanchey’s O’Korky village, said he had occupied roughly 10 hectares of land since 2000, but that villagers had never been given the chance to secure their claims legally.

Sampov Loun district governor Chum Sip declined to comment at length on the issue yesterday.

“I’m not saying much. If you want to know, go see the documents at the Council of Ministers,” he said. “No one is taking people’s land to give to the company.”

Mu Sochua said the company had already moved in some materials to build their offices, but that the community was committed to fighting the concession.

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