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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Koh Kong villagers demand that Wildaid withdraw from area

Koh Kong villagers demand that Wildaid withdraw from area

Villagers say that the NGO should specify exactly where the province's protected forest zone is or allow farmers to use the land

TOO MANY COOKS

Villagers say that WildAID should

withdraw from the province as they already have a provincial governor,

a district governor and commune chief to tell them what they can and

cannot do. "We don't need WildAID as well," said villager Svay Top.

MORE than 300 Koh Kong villagers have demanded that the wildlife NGO WildAID withdraw from their communities after the organisation prohibited them from planting crops on their farms, some of which fall within a protected forest area.

"We want WildAID to withdraw from Smach Mean Chey and Bak Khlang communes because ... they don't allow us to plant crops as they say that our farms are in the protected forest," said Tan Sokhuom, Smach Mean Chey's village representative. "If they can't withdraw, they should show us exactly where the protected forest is and allow farmers to use at lease some of the land to plant crops."

For many villagers who have been living in the area for years, their livelihood is at stake.

"They came to pull out my seeds and tear down my house where I have lived since 1999," said villager Svay Top, adding that all the villagers depend on farming to live.

Veann Sophanna, a WildAID officer in Koh Kong, advised the villagers to seek high level government intervention over the case, saying the NGO could not help them.

"We will ask Prime Minister Samdach Hun Sen for help," said Tan Sokhuom. "If we don't get a resolution after three months we will hold a big demonstration."

Villagers say that the NGO should specify exactly where the province’s protected forest zone is or allow farmers to use the land

Many of the villagers claim to have lived on the land since 1980 but lack land titles.

"This is a weak point for us," Svay Top said.  
Who owns the land?

"We have been told by a businessman that our land was sold to him in 1992 by the commune chief ... but when we went to speak to the commune chief he said that the businessman didn't have a land title and he issued me a land title for my 25 hectares of land," Tan Sokhuom said.  

Veann Sophanna, director of the Forestry Administration, said that the land is under control of WildAID because the NGO is trying to protect the forest.

If the villagers persist in using the land for farming, the government will have to intervene, he said. 

"If people in the area are really farming on the land, we will find other land for them," Veann Sophanna said, adding that some of the land in the protected zone belongs to wealthy absentee landlords and will be put under the control of WildAID.

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