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NGO, farmers at an impasse

ROUGHLY 100 farmers from Kampong Speu, Preah Sihanouk and Kampot provinces squared off yesterday on two separate occasions with an NGO that claims to own land they have cultivated in previous years, though officials intervened and prevented the altercation from spilling over into violence, witnesses said.

Mou Savoeung, a representative of the farmers, said they arrived at a section of the disputed land in Preah Sihanouk’s Kampong Seila district with three tractors early on Monday intending to prepare rice fields for planting. She said workers from the NGO, the Kampong Speu-based Cambodia Disabled Survivors’ Association, had been at the site and tried to obstruct their access to it, which led to the standoff.

“We were facing off with the members of the association because they did not allow us to plant on our rice field,” she said. “We nearly used violence, but our commune officers came one time to tell us to avoid violence and find a peaceful way.”

Tim Hong, the chief of O’Anlong village in Kampong Seila district, said he and district police had intervened to prevent violence, and that negotiations would be held today to resolve the dispute.

“We saw villagers and association staffers carrying knives and axes in hand, so we were afraid that violence would happen, and we asked the villagers to stop farming to avoid violence,” he said.

Nuon Pich, another farmer, said he believed that the NGO was refusing to allow them to plant this year because the land had been sold to a Korean company, but Touch Seouly, director of the Cambodia Disabled Survivors’ Association, denied this, saying the rice grown on the farmland would be given to the disabled.

Touch Seouly said officials in each province had in 2006 granted him more than 1,500 hectares of land, most of which is in Kampong Speu. The disputed site in Preah Sihanouk, he said, is 270 hectares.

He said Monday afternoon that he had no intention of letting the farmers cultivate the land.

“If it is their land, they can do it, but it is our land,” he said.



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