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Kraya evictees facing hunger

Officials say distribution of new farmland could begin by the end of this month

KAMPONG Thom provincial authorities said Monday that the distribution of 1-hectare plots of farmland promised as compensation to around 600 families evicted from their land last December could commence by the end of the month.

“We will provide new farmland to those 602 families, and we will provide it to them on time, either during the rainy season or at the end of this month,” said Out Sam On, Kampong Thom deputy governor.

On December 15, the families were violently evicted from Kraya commune, located in Santuk district, to make way for a 8,100-hectare rubber plantation to be developed by Vietnam’s Tin Bien company.

The villagers, many of them military veterans, were shifted 7 kilometres away to Thmor Samleang village, where they have built homes but are still awaiting farmland promised to them in May.

Out Sam On said officials were waiting for the results of an “impact study” being carried out to ensure that the distribution of the farmland will not lead to future disputes.

“We do not want to delay distribution of land to the villagers any longer,” he said.

Pich Sophea, Santuk district governor, said provincial and district authorities had submitted a request to the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries asking for permission to begin distributing replacement plots, but had not received a response.

“The local authorities have now decided that even though the [ministry] has been late to reply to us on this issue we will go ahead and provide the villagers with farmland because we want them to be able to plant their crops on time,” he said, and added that the ministry could sign off on the arrangement later.

The families, which have been prevented from planting crops on their old land, have frequently expressed concern that they will not be able to produce enough food if they are not given new farmland before the onset of the rainy season.

On March 7, three men were shot by police after a group of about 40 farmers tried to access their old farmland to plant cassava.

Om Saran, a villager living at the Thmor Samleang site, said the authorities should follow through on their promise.

“It is almost the end of June and the rainy season has already begun. We want to plant rice and cassava on time; the authorities should understand the difficulties we will face if we cannot plant our crops,” he said. “I would like to ask the authorities to please stop lying to us.”

Nuth Khim, another villager awaiting replacement land, said that because authorities lived lives of privilege, they had no way of understanding the plight of the poor.

“We are living in poor conditions but still they delay in providing us with farmland,” he said. “Villagers here do not have food to eat, and we cannot support our families anymore.”

Poe Oumoete, provincial monitor for local rights group Licadho, said authorities needed to make a better effort to communicate with the Kraya villagers.

“The raining season started recently, so the villagers are facing a lot of problems. They don’t have enough food, and they need farmland and answers from the authorities,” he said.

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