Plans for repair by Pursat officials draw outcry from some farmers.
FARMERS in Pursat province are bristling at local officials’ attempt to reclaim Khmer Rouge-era canals, some of which have deteriorated so much over the years that they have been filled in with soil.
Um Bun Soeun, chief of O’Tapong commune in Pursat’s Bakan district, said officials had informed villagers of their plan to reclaim and repair the canals about two weeks ago.
“We have previously informed all the people here to keep the canals as canals and not to fill them up,” he said. “Now, we have told them that the canals are the property of the state. If the government needs to repair and rebuild them, then people have to hand them over to the government.”
He added that farmers in the commune would not have access to the canals during the repair process, but could not say how long the process would last.
Om Chhoun, a rice farmer, said any repairs would not make up for the disruption of being barred from the canal system. He acknowledged, though, that local farmers had no choice but to comply with the officials’ order.
“All of us dug the canals. We struggled to make them,” he said. “People died and were killed making these canals, so we have to make sure they are benefiting the people.”
He added: “We are not opposed to the idea of the government’s policy, but we have to use them for our own purpose.”
Phoung Vy, another farmer in Bakan, also said the canals should be used to benefit the people and expressed concern that the government would assume control over them, even temporarily.
However, he acknowledged that some of the canals were in dire need of an upgrade.
In a 2007 article in Searching for the Truth, a magazine by the Documentation Centre of Cambodia (DC-Cam), Jeffrey Himel, owner of the development-focused company Aruna Technology Ltd, noted that the Khmer Rouge irrigation system was “deeply flawed” and prone to deterioration.
“The primary canals were too wide and deep, didn’t command many of the fields they were meant to serve, and inevitably were eroded by the annual flood flows,” he said.
DC-Cam Director Youk Chhang said he agreed that the canals needed serious work.
“We haven’t fully researched the impact of the canals and dams built by the Khmer Rouge on the people, but some dams have flooded people’s farmland and villages, while others have provided benefits to the people,” he said. “But if they are so useful, then why didn’t anyone have rice to eat during that time?”
Sao Daroeun, governor of Bakan district, said local reclamation of the canals was part of a broader government plan. Officials from the Ministry of Water Resources and Meteorology could not be reached for comment Wednesday.