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Villagers urged to accept fate

A villager from Preah Vihear province
A villager from Preah Vihear province points out examples of evictions on a protest poster yesterday during a demonstration in front of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. Eli Meixler

Villagers urged to accept fate

Opposition lawmaker and head of the National Assembly’s human rights commission Eng Chhay Eang yesterday urged a community from Preah Vihear to stop protesting against their eviction and accept compensation.

Villagers from Choam Ksan district have been railing against the government’s decision to evict them from land, saying that the area would not be reclassified as a heritage site as promised but handed over to powerful individuals or private companies.

But Chhay Eang said the commission had investigated the case, including by visiting the site, and concluded that the concerns were unfounded.

“The authorities have not taken the land to rent or sell to any company. They’ve taken it for conservation purposes,” he said, adding that experts had found the 500-plus-hectare site to have cultural and historical significance.

“We ask people to stop protesting and to go to accept appropriate compensation from the government,” he said.

If he turned out to be wrong and the land was sold to individuals or companies, Chhay Eang added, he himself would lead protests demanding the land be returned to the roughly 250 families affected.
Villagers have been offered alternative land to farm and live on, he added.

“Let the [authorities] conserve [that area],” he said. “I told them to give them appropriate compensation.”

Any further protesting would be a waste of time, he added.

Villagers involved, however, did not agree that a solution was that simple.

“I absolutely will not accept compensation. I must take my land back,” said Sath Nget, 44, a representative of villagers from Kantuot commune. “The compensation is not appropriate, because my land is not a heritage site.”

Fellow representative Phan Phoeun, 41, said that the land was at risk of being seized for private use.

“People have lived there a long time. Why is it my land they are taking to preserve?” he said.

Lor Chan, investigator for human rights group Adhoc, urged the human rights commission to invite representatives from UNESCO to talk about the plan.

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