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Sand rises as villagers wait

Children play in the sand as a man fishes in Meanchey district’s Prek Pra commune
Children play in the sand as a man fishes in Meanchey district’s Prek Pra commune, where locals have voiced concerns about sand encroaching on their farming land. Heng Chivoan

Sand rises as villagers wait

Thirteen families in Phnom Penh’s O’andoung village, who have been locked in a long-running dispute with tycoon Sok Kong’s Sokimex company, say their land is being flooded with sand as they wait for a response to a complaint filed with Prime Minister Hun Sen earlier this month.

At the end of last month, villagers said, Meanchey district governor Kuoch Chamreoun told them they had to leave their farms on a 21-hectare stretch of land in Prek Bra commune, which they have farmed for a decade.

If they did not move, they could face military police intervention and “administrative measures”.

“We have not taken [Sokimex’s] land as our own property. Why did some officials collude with each other to … give our lands to the company without any compensation like this?” Chhay Sothea, a representative of the 13 families, asked.

Following the announcement, Sothea added, the families filed a petition with Hun Sen’s office, asking him to wade in to resolve the dispute and acknowledge their ownership of the land.

Sok Kong, director of Sokimex, or Sok Kong Import Export Company, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

According to the villagers, the conflict arose out of a land dispute between two firms – not an uncommon occurrence in Cambodia.

Sokimex and another company, Phan Imex, were engaged in a dispute over about 55 hectares of land. The disagreement was resolved in 2010 following the intervention of authorities.

In 2007, the government ordered the 55.4-hectare area of Veal Sbov commune, in Kandal province’s Kean Svay district, and Ta Ngov village, in Phnom Penh’s Niroth commune, be measured and divided between the companies.

But a February 18, 2008 letter from Chuob Sitha, former Prek Bra district governor, to Hun Sen obtained by the Post alleged that the demarcation had been made illegally, granting the villagers’ land to Sokimex in a bid to end the dispute. “That measurement overlapped onto Prek Bra commune and it affected the legal properties belonging to the 13 families in O’andoung village,” the letter reads.

Villagers went on to claim that Sitha was sacked from his position as district governor because he refused to sign over the deeds to the land to Sokimex.

“Because he wanted to protect our legal properties – that is why he was fired from his position as the district governor,” Sun Sokunthy, another village representative, said.

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