Around 1,000 farming families say they are losing their livelihood to unfair development, but authorities say land concession is legal
Under the 2001 Land Law, any person who has lived peacefully on state private land for five years prior to the approval of the legislation has the right to claim private title to the land. But the law appears to be rarely honoured, land use advocates say.
NEARLY 1,000 families in Kandal province's Kampong Os commune say they are losing their farmland to development by a wealthy businessman and have appealed to local authorities to halt the building on a government concession granted in 2007 to the tycoon.
"We have lived [on this land] since 1979 and some families moved here in 1985. The land is our property but we've been told that we can't change the government's decision," said villager San Kim Chhorn.
San Kim Chhorn said he relies on cultivating rice on the land for his livelihood and is concerned by the workers who have already begun constructing a fence around the villagers' land.
"I am not the only one who will suffer. Farmers from Dong Kom, Tam Me and Kampong Os villages will lose their rice fields and will face a lack of food if the fence goes up," he said.
"I don't know why the government allowed them to develop in this area because it is the villagers' rice fields," he added.
Sopheak, another farmer from Kampong Os commune, said that he couldn't leave the area as a fair market price had not been paid for the land.
"I don't understand why rich men are interested in poor men's land. I've heard that this is happening in a lot of places in Cambodia," he said.
But local officials said the land concession was unavoidable and villagers should accept compensation and leave.
Norng Narong, Kampong Os commune chief, confirmed that the disputed 1,690 hectares of farmland had been awarded to Dy Po, a private developer who is frequently named in the Khmer-language media's coverage of land disputes.
"Dy Po took ownership of the land according to the government's decision. He paid villagers US$1,800 per hectare, but some people didn't agree because on the free market the price would be between $10,000 and $12,000 per hectare," he said, adding that 300 to 400 families have already accepted the money.
"People who live on this land don't have land titles," he said, adding that all families are still allowed to farm the fields.
Chev Chhy, deputy governor of Ponhea Leu district, said he forwarded the villagers' complaint to the provincial court but has not heard back.
"I have heard that Dy Po will develop the area, but I don't know what they will build on the land," he said.
"It is not my duty to resolve this dispute so I have sent the villagers' complaint to a higher-ranking officer."
Dy Po could not be reached for comment.