About 200 families in Koh Kong province’s Botum Sakor district were threatened with legal action yesterday by the district governor, who told them their 100-hectare plantation had been earmarked for development by a Chinese firm, a village representative alleged.
Meas Sen, 58, said residents had been farming the area – in the villages of Chi Tres and Pray in Andong Teuk commune – for more than 10 years without complaint until last Friday, when a Chinese man came to the village and told them the land had been granted to a Chinese company last year.
Two days later, Botum Sakor district governor Orn Phirak told Meas Sen the villagers must stop farming the land or face court.
“The district governor called me directly to ask me to stop growing crops, because it was a waste of time,” he said.
“If I continue, I will be sent to court under allegations of grabbing the company’s property.”
Sen also called for youth volunteers to measure the land, adding that villagers wanted provincial authorities to look into the case as well.
Hi Tan, commune chief of Andong Teuk, said he did not know of any land concessions in his commune, much less the alleged threat in Chi Tres and Pray villages, but noted the villagers’ plantation fell within protected Botum Sakor National Park.
Orn Phirak denied the accusations, but said the government had last year granted Sinomexim Investment land for a rubber plantation covering 4,000 hectares – about 200 of which were in Andong Teuk commune.
Villagers farming the land were “newcomers from Phnom Penh” who had only begun planting there after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced his new land policy, Phirak said.
Rights group Licadho’s In Kongchit said that if their claims were true, the families should be granted land titles in accordance with government directive 001, which ordered authorities to find on behalf of long-time residents in land disputes.
To contact the reporter on this story: Chhay Channyda at [email protected]