Representatives of over 40 families in two communes in Rolea Ba’ier district, Kampong Chhnang province, have asked the authorities to help them take back more than 50ha that had been handed to the military for its use.
The families are from Trok Lech village in Sre Thmey commune, and Preah Ream Raingsey village in Chrey Bakk commune.
One of their representatives, Prak Sophorn, told The Post on Monday that the military has encircled their property in the two villages.
The dispute, he said, dates back to 2015 when forces of the Kampong Chhnang Sub-military Region Operation Zone took over 200ha in the area for the K-88 arsenal of the Ministry of National Defence.
The villagers claim that 50ha out of the 200ha is farmland for growing rice, vegetables and other crops.
“We have been claiming the land and protesting for many years, but the soldiers have refused to give back more than 50ha and there is still no solution,” Sophorn said.
A villager, Yoem Chhen, said the land is legally owned and people have been farming there since 1989.
He said after the people protested and filed a complaint with the authorities for help, the ministry appointed four military officials to verify the villagers’ claims.
Soon after, an announcement was made that the Council of Ministers had handed over the disputed land to the military.
“I am not protesting to get back all 200ha of state land. We are just asking for only 50ha to be granted to the people. They can do whatever they want with the rest. We only want our farmland back to we can grow crops as before,” Chhen said.
Nou Khean, the Sre Thmey village chief said the disputed land had been occupied by villagers since 1989, with some holding land titles and some not.
“The land was first occupied by the soldiers for two years [1985-1987] and they left without a word. The people started farming on the land in 1989.
“The government also agreed to hand over the land to the people. By 2015, the soldiers came back to claim their land and today both sides claim the land belongs to them,” he said.
Thon Thoeun, the commander of the Kampong Chhnang Sub Military Region Operation Zone and president of the Cambodian Veterans Association of Kampong Chhnang, said on Monday that the land has been in dispute for years.
People claim the land, but it is a location for the arsenal and the Council of Ministers handed it over to the soldiers.
“I cannot make any decision, I just manage the military. However, we would like to end this dispute as soon as possible,” he said.
Kampong Chhnang provincial governor Chhour Chandoeun said he had several times confirmed the announcement from the Council of Ministers about handing over the land to the soldiers but the villagers have refused to listen and have continued to protest.
He said he and the national defence ministry team were thinking of a solution for both sides as soon as possible to end the long-standing conflict.
“Now, I will send an expert team to investigate the situation directly on the site and ask the soldiers and citizens on both sides what they want. After that, we will start discussing to end the dispute. We will try to resolve it as soon as possible,” Chandoeun said.