KANDAL province villagers involved in a land dispute with a prominent development company say they cannot accept an offer of US$10,000 in exchange for tearing down a cherished pagoda.
In an article published yesterday in the Nokor Wat Daily newspaper, the head of the Heng Development Company is quoted as offering the villagers $10,000 in compensation for destroying the pagoda. Company director Sieng Chanheng owns Nokor Wat Daily.
“All people who know they have done wrong have to move from that land,” Sieng Chanheng was quoted as saying in the newspaper. “The company will provide $10,000 after they have torn down the pagoda.”
Sieng Chanheng could not be reached for comment yesterday.
But villagers and members of the local pagoda committee say the offer is unacceptable.
Kong San, a member of the Tuol Tamork pagoda committee, said villagers would never agree to tear down the pagoda. They want to keep the temple for devout Buddhists, Kong San said.
“Even if they offer us a million dollars, we will not agree,” he said.
The dispute involves 2,676 families in seven communes of Kandal Stung district who say they have lived and farmed on more than 1,000 hectares of the land since 1986. Company representatives, on the other hand, say they bought the land in 1996 for commercial rice cultivation. The villagers say they have been given until
August 30 – Monday – to clear off the land.
“We are ready if the company comes to tear down the pagoda,” said Chea Hy, a representative of the villagers.
Rights advocates say the villagers have been treated unfairly in this case.
Men Makara, a coordinator with local rights group Adhoc, said the company needs to find a resolution for all the villagers and not just the pagoda.
“Villagers need the company to find a resolution for them in all communes that are affected, not only the pagoda,” Men Makara said. “It is an injustice for them when the company talks only about the pagoda.”