Representatives of 57 families in Battambang’s Thma Koul district were interrogated by the provincial court all afternoon yesterday regarding a long-standing land dispute between villagers and the Ministry of Defence.
According to the villagers’ account, in 1993, each family was given two hectares on which to settle when they returned from refugee camps in Thailand. Three years later, the soldiers arrived and tried to claim and farm the 114-hectare territory.
“[The soldiers] have abused our land since 1996, yet they have complained that we have abused their land,” said Chhoeun Chorb, the Krous village chief and one of four representatives called to court yesterday following a complaint lodged by Chhem Seakleng, an engineering soldier.
The villagers said they have filed plenty of their own complaints to local and provincial officials, but to no avail. In 2012, they staged a protest in front of the prime minister’s house, but continued to get no response.
“We have lived on our land since reintegration, and we have legal land titles,” said Chok Sok, another of the families’ representatives. “The commune chief secretly sold the land to business people.”
The local rights group assisting the villagers’ confirmed the families’ land titles, and said the dispute had reached a critical point in April when the villagers erected shelters on the land so soldiers could not clear it.
“They have sought intervention from everywhere, but justice is not delivered, so they decided to sleep on and guard their land themselves,” said Yin Mengly, an Adhoc coordinator.
Prosecutor Nuon San and Chhem Seakleng could not be reached for comment.