AROUND 50 families from Oddar Meanchey province’s Anlong Veng district who were evicted from their homes last month protested in front of Wat Botum on Monday to petition Prime Minister Hun Sen about the lack of infrastructure at their relocation site.
On May 25, more than 100 homes in O’Ampil village in Anlong Veng commune were burned down by provincial authorities. Siem Reap provincial court had ordered that the homes be removed after a complaint was filed by Forestry Administration workers, who accused the families of living illegally on protected land.
Village representative Meas Socheat said the residents, who have since been relocated to O’Rumchek village in Anlong Veng commune, about 10 kilometres from O’Ampil, came to protest because they no longer have access to farmland.
“We are farmers who depend on planting rice to support our living. If they do not provide us with farmland, we will die,” he said. “Recently, we have been facing hunger. We want to ask the prime minister to help us to live legally on our old land.”
Chhaom Chhoeun, a 42-year-old farmer, said the villagers had been granted 20-by-40-metre plots of land in O’Rumchek, but that basic infrastructure was severely lacking.
“There is no clean water to use, no schools and no health centre. It is far from the market, and the authorities have only provided us land for a home. We don’t have farmland for planting rice,” he said.
But Anlong Veng district Governor Yim Phanna dismissed claims that the evictees have not been given sufficient plots. He also said they had inflated the number of families in the old village to maximise the amount of land granted.
“We tried to help them even though they used ‘ghost families’ to increase the numbers from 102 families to 173 families,” he said.
He said the authorities had cooperated with an unnamed NGO to dig wells for the community, and that the construction of more infrastructure would proceed “step by step”.
But rights groups said the use of violence against the O’Ampil villagers back in April had forced the farmers into appealing directly to Hun Sen.
“The local authorities used violence against them by burning down villagers’ homes without giving them the new replacement land first, and that put them in a difficult situation ... with the recent onset of the rainy season,” said Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc.
Lim Leang Se, deputy chief of Hun Sen’s cabinet, could not be reached Monday.