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‘Settle land dispute or else’

Villagers from Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district sit opposite the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh
Villagers from Banteay Meanchey’s Malai district sit opposite the National Assembly yesterday in Phnom Penh, where community representatives were delivering a letter addressing their concerns. Vireak Mai

‘Settle land dispute or else’

The head of the National Assembly’s top human rights commission has warned Banteay Meanchey’s provincial governor to settle a land dispute involving 230 disabled soldiers’ families from the province’s Malai district, saying he will be sacked if the matter is not settled within three months.

After meeting representatives of the soldiers’ families, CNRP lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang, president of the Commission on Human Rights, Complaints and Investigation, said authorities had turned a blind eye to the dispute.

“If the provincial governor fails to settle this matter, we will summon him for questioning, and we will ask the government to sack him if necessary. If he does not respect the guidelines, how can we allow him to be the provincial governor?” said Eang.

Him Yoeun, one of the three representatives of soldiers – mostly ex-Khmer Rouge fighters – said they would only return to the negotiating table if they were given a guarantee they wouldn’t be arrested.

“Unless we have a confirmation letter saying we will not be arrested by any institution, we will not come back, because in the past, when our representatives went, they were arrested. It has already happened twice.”

But according to Banteay Meanchey Governor Kor Sum Saroeut, the case is particularly complicated, because other people had since moved onto parts of the disputed land.

“Other people have occupied the land, so we have to negotiate with them and negotiate with our own authorities, and then we can settle,” he said, adding that the representatives would not be arrested if they came.

According to the representatives, 2,929 hectares of disputed land were given to the 230 disabled soldiers’ families by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1997, but seven years ago, their former commanders – Mao Kiri, Preap Sarun and Ly Utny – sold the land to a third party. They have been protesting ever since.

Double-amputee Sok Phat urged the authorities to offer them land titles soon and bring infrastructure to their home district.

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