Chrey Bakk commune authorities in Kampong Chhnang province’s Rolea Ba’ier district are working to solve a land dispute between residents and a landowner who allegedly prevented the locals from digging for clay to make pot stoves.

Commune chief Taing Buntot said on October 17 that more than 40 villagers protested, seeking an intervention. The landowner had granted villagers access to the land until recently.

Buntot said the owner, Ith Dang, bought the land to excavate gravel and other stones, but the villagers asked authorities to intervene and request that the land be put aside for them to continue digging for clay, a practice that has existed for a long time.

Buntot said that after a mediation, Dany agreed to set aside 4ha of land at Anlong Phlang for villagers. At the time, Dany’s company had not dug for stone at the site. However, in 2017, it started digging next to the site put aside for the people.

The commune chief added that late last month, Dany stopped people taking clay.

“By the end of September or early October, rain water filled the pit. So, people continued to take soil from other places, prompting the owner to stop them.

“When the people were banned, they asked me to negotiate with the owner to return the 4ha that had been put aside for them, he said.

He added that the issue was not over yet as people now wanted to exchange the 4ha for land the company has excavated as this land is easier for them to dig out clay.

However, there are residents who do not need clay and disagree with the exchange as they want to keep the land with stones which they can use to fill land in the village. Others also want to have some forest where they can use to cut firewood.

“It is difficult to get an opinion if the land is not [available for those who need firewood]. But in my opinion, I want to use 2ha for people who need stones and forest, and the other 2ha for those who need clay. This is just my opinion and not yet official,” said Buntot.

The commune chief added that after the villagers protested, he tried to contact and coordinate with the owner about exchanging the land but no decision had been made.

“I have not reported the matter to the district yet. Because I think Ill try to communicate with the owner as much as possible. If the company doesn’t agree, then I will report to the district, he said.

Dany said on October 18 that she had agreed to distribute land she had bought privately to villagers, but that the land had not been dug up by the villagers. Instead, they went to dig for clay in other places where she excavated stone for her business.

“The place that I allocated to them hasn’t been touched and then they accused me of blocking the road. I didn’t block the road. I have only been working on my land. They noticed that I have cleared the forest which makes is easy for villagers to access the stones. They don’t listen to us,” she said.

She said that if people have a request about exchanging land, she asked that villagers sit down in person to have a discussion then she will consider it.

“For three years, they have changed the conditions of the land many times, so how much available land do I have to exchange. They have to sit down and have a clear discussion with me and stop digging wherever they feel like on my land,” she said.