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Intervention sought in land dispute

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Officials receive the villagers’ petition near Prime Minister Hun Sen Cabinet in Phnom Penh. Heng Chivoan

Intervention sought in land dispute

Some 50 people representing more than 100 families locked in a land dispute in Kampong Thom province’s Kraya commune, in Santuk district, travelled to Phnom Penh to submit a petition at the National Assembly, the Prime Minister’s Cabinet and the Ministry of Interior on Monday and Tuesday.

The petitioners, who are also requesting intervention in the land dispute to acquire authorised land titles, accused provincial authorities of an attempt to jail them, but provincial governor Sok Lou denied this.

The parliament house accepted their petition but it was not received by the Prime Minister’s Cabinet or the ministry.

The petition said 147 families are having a land dispute on 510ha with four real estate companies – An Sophy, Golden, Noupheap Sophy and Cambodia Famer.

Provincial authorities recently warned the petitioners that if they didn’t accept a deal which would give half of the land to citizens and half to companies, they would face legal action.

The petition said: “Provincial authorities and relevant officials came to negotiate with us by using the formula of dividing the land into two equal parts. It means if we had two hectares of land, we have to share one hectare with the company, otherwise, we would face the law.”

The petitioners said authority’s position was threatening and caused them worry.

Chhoub Sambath, a representative of the residents, said the warnings from provincial officials were issued in May and June.

She said her plot is farmland passed down to her by her ancestors. It was left idle for some time before she resumed farming in 2012.

Sambath claimed that in 2014, the residents were issued a summons to appear in court and were accused of occupying land which had been company-owned since 2007.

Following the court summons, citizens requested intervention from provincial officials.

“When I arrived at the court, we were told that the government had granted the land to the company in 2007, but we were not aware of this. My ancestors had farmed the land and no company has ever done anything with it,” Sambath said

The villagers re-occupied the disputed land after officials from the province came to coordinate their return.

Provincial governor Sok Lou told The Post on Wednesday that the land had belonged to companies for years and the citizens’ land in that area had already been measured by a student group.

He said some villagers had occupied the company’s land, but a compromise was reached with the assistance of a provincial working group. Most people, he said, agreed to the resolution, but a few refused.

Lou said no authority would coerce or threaten them, but the only solution was to agree to the deal which split the land in half between the citizens and the companies.

He said: “Normally, even though their land is cultivated, we don’t have the authority to give it to them. Provincial officials identify the land’s history and what they have done with it in order for us to make a request to the management level. The provincial-level doesn’t make such decisions.”

Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Sok Ratha said the NGO has been monitoring the land dispute, but noted that the residents had not yet filed a complaint with it.

“Some people have owned the land for a long time. Others may have recently occupied it and some may have bought and continued to occupy it. Some locations were traditionally occupied, but not all,” he said.

He said he wants to see land disputes resolved at the provincial level so that people do not have to travel to find solutions at the national level.

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