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Villagers, soldiers in land battle

Local Phan Sina (centre right) on Friday confronts soldiers she accuses of attempting to steal land she has cultivated for years. Adhoc
Local Phan Sina (centre right) on Friday confronts soldiers she accuses of attempting to steal land she has cultivated for years. Adhoc

Villagers, soldiers in land battle

Villagers involved in a long-running land dispute in Kratie province’s Sambor district have prevented soldiers from building a fence around disputed land that the army intends to use as a sniper training ground.

The two-year-old conflict surrounding 20 hectares in O’Krieng commune’s O’Kandie village between villagers and the military’s Regiment 42-Ngor flared up again on Friday morning when 10 soldiers, one of them armed with a rifle, brought material to build a fence around the land, which locals have been cultivating since 1997, according to rights activists and villagers.

“I stood in front of [the soldiers’] tractor. I told them to shoot me, but they did not,” said villager Phan Sina, who belongs to one of the six affected families.

Sina said soldiers had been trying to use her 180-by-600-metre plot for sniper training since 2015. She said land titling volunteers measured her land in 2013 as part of a nationwide reform effort and issued a receipt for her, though she is still waiting for the actual title because of a complaint by the soldiers.

“The soldiers accused us of grabbing their land. I said that if I did grab the land, you would have beaten or handcuffed me already,” she said, in turn accusing the soldiers of slashing hundreds of her cashew trees.

Meas Samut, commander of the regiment, declined to comment yesterday. However, Lieutenant Colonel Sun Y, head of a brigade attached to Regiment 42-Ngor, argued that the soldiers were stationed in the area before the villagers were.

“The land is a mountainous area that belongs to the state,” he said, maintaining that the planned training field was “far away” from the village, about 2 kilometres.

But Be Vanny, provincial investigator for rights group Adhoc, said villagers should be given land in exchange if soldiers were intent on taking the disputed plot. Vanny also criticised local authorities for allegedly ignoring the land dispute.

Pen Linat, deputy provincial governor and spokesman for Kratie Provincial Hall, said that he was unaware of the conflict.

District governor Soum Sarith referred questions to contact O’Krieng commune chief Keo Bopha, who could not be reached yesterday.

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