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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kampong Thom villagers ready to fight for farms

Kampong Thom villagers ready to fight for farms

More than 700 village

households in Sandan district of Kampong Thom are battling to save their fruit

and vegetable farms from confiscation by the provincial governor who wants to

turn over much of their land to a private company for a rubber plantation.

Kampong Thom Provincial

Governor Nam Tum, who was recently made advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen with

the rank of minister, told the Post that

the land in question is state land and the villagers were not entitled to it.

"The exact number is only 300

families, not more than 700,” he said.

Tum confirmed that he wanted

to divide the villagers’ plots in half to about three hectares each with land

titles, and give the rest to the rubber plantation company.

"We cannot allow them to

continue to clear the forest in anarchy,” he said, adding that, "they have the

right to protest but we enforce by the law.”

About 18 families representing

the villagers in the Sandan district traveled to Phnom Penh on February 29 seeking

intervention from the National Assembly and the Ministry of Interior and to

file a complaint with the Committee for Strict Law Enforcement for Human Rights

in Cambodia (CSLHRC).

Several villagers told the Post that since 2006 provincial authorities

have attempted to confiscate much of the 7,000 hectares of land they have

occupied since 1982.

Last November 2, governor Nam

Tum wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking to reduce their land holdings

to 5,415 hectares in Meanrith commune, Sandan district to set up a village for

459 families. The other 3,914 hectares would go to the state and for a land concession

to UKH Development Co., Ltd, for a rubber tree plantation.

Three days later, Hun Sen

ordered Chan Sarun, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to make

a recommendation on the case. Nothing has happened since.

"I wait to see the

recommendation from the head of the government and I will follow the

recommendation,” said Tum.

Sao Tok, one of the villagers

from the remote Sandan district, said the list of 459 names that was submitted

to the prime minister contained fake names, not real families.

"He lied to the Prime

Minister. We occupied the land for a long time. We never agreed with

authorities to give our land. The land is our property and our lives depend on

this land,” said Tok.

Another villager, Chum

Sokhoeun, said giving up their land was equivalent to giving up their lives. He

said each family owns 7-8 hectares and if the plots are reduced to three

hectares, their livelihoods will be ruined.

"If they don’t respect the

law and just want to take our land then we will not respect them either,”

Sokhoeun said. "We are prepared to face them and violence is the last choice.”

CSLHRC president Heang Rithy,

who investigated the site, said the 736 families have legitimate ownership claims

to the land.

"What I see is that the

people had legally occupied the land and by the land law they fully own the

land,” Rithy said at the news conference.

"They came here seeking help

and preventing their land from being grabbed by the powerful and rich people

just for their benefits.”

Chrea Sochenda, Sam Rainsy

Party parliamentarian for Kampong Thom, said authorities were forcing villagers

to thumbprint documents stating they had accepted a small amount of money in

exchange for land.

"I think what the people

protested is correct,” Sochenda said. "We will assist them legally and if

violence occurs it is the authorities’ responsibility.”

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