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Starvation lingers in Kampong Thom

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Yan Kim Hon (L), who fell ill after drinking unclean water, rests at Preah Kosamak Hospital in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

Yan Kim Hon (L), who fell ill after drinking unclean water, rests at Preah Kosamak Hospital in Phnom Penh yesterday. Photograph: Vireak Mai/Phnom Penh Post

The villagers of Kampong Thom’s Thamasamlieng village are being asked for patience, but after nearly three years of broken agreements, health woes and food shortages that one rights group says has led to starvation deaths, that patience is wearing thin.

In December 2009, a lease granted to a Vietnamese rubber firm forced 1,750 families living on a social land concession to move from their homes in Santuk district’s Kraya commune.

Families, many with disabled members, had legally settled in the commune since 2005, an arrangement that came to a sudden stop with the granting of Tin Bean Rubber’s 75-year lease.

Last week, the displaced families sent 602 letters to the cabinet of Prime Minister Hun Sen asking for intervention, urging the government to grant the one-hectare of farmland legally entitled to each of them, instead of the current a 20 x 40 metre plot they now hold.

“Because we have not received the farm land yet, we have gone to work for the Vietnamese company to earn money,” said Sok Chandy, 34, a resident of the Thamasamlieng village. “But now, some villagers lack rice to support their families.”

A storm in May caused Chandy’s home to collapse on her husband, severely injuring him. He sought medical care at the Preah Kosmak hospital but has remained disabled ever since, leaving Chandy as the family’s sole source of income.

“We demand the authorities grant the farm land to us so that we can farm to support our families. If not, we will starve to death, because we have no income source,” Chandy said.

Villagers living in the evacuated area face food shortages and health problems due to a lack of clean water, which has contributed to bouts of fever and diarrhea.

“We have no wells, so we drink the rain water that fills in the holes left by the excavators,” she said.

Kampong Thom provincial governor Chhun Chhorn said that provincial authorities planned to grant land to them, but they have yet to do so.

“Related to the new request, the villagers may receive farming within 6 months,” Chhorn said.

Mam Sitha, president of the Cambodian Independent Anti-Corruption Committee, which submitted the letters on the villager’s behalf, said his group had documented two cases of starvation deaths in the past year and immediate action was necessary.

“This is sending a message to the government that top leaders should take urgent measures.”

To contact the reporter on this story: May Titthara at titthara.may@phnompenhpost.com

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