MORE than 500 people from Kampong Thom province’s Santuk district on Tuesday protested the dismantling of a Khmer Rouge-era irrigation project that they say has led to the flooding of their farmland.
Villagers say the dam, when it functioned, had been used to flush water in and out of farmland belonging to residents of Santuk’s Boeung Lvea, Ti Pou, Kraya and Kampong Thma communes. Government officials dismantled it last year to build a reservoir.
“My land has been totally flooded – I can’t plant rice anymore,” said Khaul Choeun, who claimed to own 2 hectares of flooded land.
In a meeting at Santuk’s Boeung Lvea pagoda, Santuk district governor Pich Sophea told villagers that the government would not be paying compensation to families affected by the flooding because they had planted their rice on state land.
“This is the government’s project to renovate the irrigation system,” Pich Sothea said, adding that the newly built reservoir provided water for residents of five communes in Santuk.
The villagers, he added, understood that they had no right to plant rice on state land but had been incited to protest for compensation by the opposition Sam Rainsy Party (SRP).
“We have prohibited them from planting crops there, so when their crops are flooded over, we are not responsible,” he said. “We have prohibited them again and again – they know already.”
Men Sothavarin, an SRP lawmaker from Kampong Thom, denied that the SRP had incited the protest.