Rought 40 representatives of some 370 families locked in a years-long land dispute with a rubber concessionaire in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district demonstrated outside the Phnom Penh offices of Adhoc yesterday to publicise their situation.
The villagers, many of whom are family members of soldiers stationed along the Thai border, maintained that they had occupied their land legally until 2010, when it was granted to a rubber plantation called MDS Company, owned by tycoon Try Pheap, without an adequate survey of who was occupying the land to begin with, an assessment Adhoc echoed.
One demonstrator, Nuon Yen, 57, whose husband is a border soldier, said her family depended on the crops on she had grown on her four hectares of land since 2000, before she was evicted and the land cleared in 2010.
“My husband does not earn much from the army; he cannot support the family,” she said. “It is even harder now that the company forced us to move away.”
In February, 20 villagers filed a complaint with Adhoc, who visited the land last week and determined that the government hadn’t adequately looked into who was using the land before granting it to MDS.
“The people in remote areas like this are easily threatened by authorities and the rich and powerful,” said senior investigator Chan Soveth, adding that Adhoc is preparing documents for villagers, and a letter to submit to Prime Minister Hun Sen.
But Provincial Hall spokesperson Heng Sopheana said some villagers were inflating their claims.
“What the villagers say is not completely true, because they aren’t really living or working on some of the land,” he said, adding that some live in an undemarcated area on the Cambodia-Thai border.
“However, we are gathering information and then solve the dispute.”
A representative of MDS identified only as Mr Vin could not be reached for comment.