Nearly 50 villagers representing roughly 30 families in Kandal’s Muk Kampoul district protested yesterday claiming that local authorities colluded to sell their farmland, which surrounds a drying public lake, to a private company.
Chab Sokim, one of the protesters, said while the families have no land titles, they had farmed the land around Russey Chroy commune’s Chroy Metrey village lake since 1979.
Last month, he said, authorities informed villagers the lake would be dredged, but instead cleared the land.
Sokim also said he saw documentation showing that village chief Mao Than signed the sale of the land to a timber company. “We want our property back,” he said.
Than denied the accusation yesterday, saying the villagers had sold the land themselves and were now making an opportunistic bid for greater compensation.
“They sold the high lands to the buyers and only the lake had not been sold, but now that the lake is empty, they want to demand all the lands back. The authorities tried to negotiate by talking to the private company, and they agreed to give $2,000 [to be split amongst the affected families], but the villagers disagreed,” he said.
Russey Chroy commune chief Bun Chhunsreng said he would arrange a meeting to mediate the dispute today.
Sia Phearum, director of the NGO Housing Rights Task Force, which is looking into the case, said the villagers do not have sufficient documentation to prove ownership of the land.