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Land clearance riles villagers

Nearly 80 families in Kratie province’s Snuol district embroiled in a land dispute with a private company had continued their week-long protest yesterday in an attempt to prevent the company clearing their cass-ava trees, villagers said.

Village representative Rim Khem, 58, of Khyoem commune, said the company had brought about 10 excavators to clear farmland without  discussing it with villagers.

“We asked our commune chief for help, but he said it was above his duty, so we must find a resolution by ourselves,” she said, adding that if the company did not negot-iate with villagers they would file a complaint with NGOs requesting intervention.

“They threatened us that if we did not stop protesting against them, they would arr-est us,” Rim Khem said.

Another resident, Chab Han, 57, said the dispute aff-ected nearly 80 families living on about 10 hectares of land, but that he was unaware of the size of the economic land concession that had been awarded to the company.

“I would like to ask them to stop clearing our cassava trees because we need to harvest them,” he said, adding that villagers had begun protesting last Wednesday.

“We have been farming since 1979. Why did they come to take over our land?”

Provincial governor Kham Phoeun said he would send his officers to the area to conduct research on the land dispute.

“I don’t remember when that company got the economic land concession and how many hectares they got from the government,” he said.

Ouch Leng, head of the land program for rights group Adhoc, said that companies that received economic land concessions from the government regarded themselves as the owners of the land and did not attempt to find a resolution for villagers.

“They always force villagers from their farmland or villages without providing them with compensation,” he said.

Neither Snuol district governor Iv Saphum nor the Khyoem commune chief could be reached for comment.

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