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Grievances voiced over land

Grievances voiced over land

Representatives from around the country gather to cry foul about economic concessions.

ABOUT 300 Cambodians representing 19 different provinces who came together in Phnom Penh this week to request government intervention in land disputes held a press conference Wednesday in which they told their stories and repeated their pleas for help.

On Tuesday, the villagers delivered petitions containing 119,218 thumbprints that carried their grievances to a variety of government institutions.
Sam Ath, a village representative from Battambang province, said there were villagers from "19 different provinces, 29 districts, 55 communes and 164 villages".

"We came to Phnom Penh together to deliver a message to the government about 29 different land disputes," he added.

"We had to travel here because the provincial authorities will not solve our problems."

Seng Sok Heng, a representative from Oddar Meanchey province, said members of his community had pooled their money to help him and others travel to Phnom Penh.

"People in our community shared their savings, and others sold their chickens or ducks and gave us the money," he said.

"The representatives have passed our letter to the government already, but if the government does nothing, it will be not only representatives that come here - we will bring 10,000 people to stage a protest."

Long Sami, a representative from Pursat province, added that it was the government, not private businesses, that was to blame for the villagers' problems.

"I don't blame the companies, I blame the people who decided to give economic land concessions to the companies," she said.

Ny Chakrya of the rights group Adhoc agreed, saying the government has been thoughtless in granting land to businesses.

"When the government grants an economic land concession, the officers do not come to study how it will affect the people living in that area - they just draw a map in the office," he said.

"People have come here to show that provincial authorities have ignored them, so we'll see how much attention they get from the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes."

Kek Galabru, president of the another rights group, Licadho, said she hoped the government realised the severity of the villagers' problems.

"People have come here today because they're fighting for their livelihood. They all want the right to control their land. If they have no land, how can the live?" she said.

Svay Sitha, secretary general of the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, declined to comment on the issue.

Ny Chakrya said there were 335 cases involving land disputes in 2008. He called on the government to recall all controversial land concessions.

Tes Tong, 50, Mondulkiri province: "A Korean company took over 600 hectares of forest from us in O'Raing district. They planned to turn it into a rubber plantation, but we tried to stop them because this is our ancestral land. There are animals in the forest, and we bury our dead there."

Chhuon Run, Koh Kong province: "Two rich men bought up our land in Sre Ambel district, where I have been lived since 1979 with 43 families. We don't have a land title, we have a scrapbook that proves we've lived there for years. The men say they will destroy our houses on August 24."

Tey Tean, 64, Preah Vihear province: "In 2008, a private company tore up about 20,000 hectares of rice fields and forest around our village in Rovieng district in order to plant a rubber plantation. About 100 families in the area have been affected. This is the first time I have ever been to Phnom Penh."