More than 700 village
households in Sandan district of Kampong Thom are battling to save their fruit
and vegetable farms from confiscation by the provincial governor who wants to
turn over much of their land to a private company for a rubber plantation.
Kampong Thom Provincial
Governor Nam Tum, who was recently made advisor to Prime Minister Hun Sen with
the rank of minister, told the Post that
the land in question is state land and the villagers were not entitled to it.
"The exact number is only 300
families, not more than 700,” he said.
Tum confirmed that he wanted
to divide the villagers’ plots in half to about three hectares each with land
titles, and give the rest to the rubber plantation company.
"We cannot allow them to
continue to clear the forest in anarchy,” he said, adding that, "they have the
right to protest but we enforce by the law.”
About 18 families representing
the villagers in the Sandan district traveled to Phnom Penh on February 29 seeking
intervention from the National Assembly and the Ministry of Interior and to
file a complaint with the Committee for Strict Law Enforcement for Human Rights
in Cambodia (CSLHRC).
Several villagers told the Post that since 2006 provincial authorities
have attempted to confiscate much of the 7,000 hectares of land they have
occupied since 1982.
Last November 2, governor Nam
Tum wrote a letter to Prime Minister Hun Sen asking to reduce their land holdings
to 5,415 hectares in Meanrith commune, Sandan district to set up a village for
459 families. The other 3,914 hectares would go to the state and for a land concession
to UKH Development Co., Ltd, for a rubber tree plantation.
Three days later, Hun Sen
ordered Chan Sarun, the Minister of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, to make
a recommendation on the case. Nothing has happened since.
"I wait to see the
recommendation from the head of the government and I will follow the
recommendation,” said Tum.
Sao Tok, one of the villagers
from the remote Sandan district, said the list of 459 names that was submitted
to the prime minister contained fake names, not real families.
"He lied to the Prime
Minister. We occupied the land for a long time. We never agreed with
authorities to give our land. The land is our property and our lives depend on
this land,” said Tok.
Another villager, Chum
Sokhoeun, said giving up their land was equivalent to giving up their lives. He
said each family owns 7-8 hectares and if the plots are reduced to three
hectares, their livelihoods will be ruined.
"If they don’t respect the
law and just want to take our land then we will not respect them either,”
Sokhoeun said. "We are prepared to face them and violence is the last choice.”
CSLHRC president Heang Rithy,
who investigated the site, said the 736 families have legitimate ownership claims
to the land.
"What I see is that the
people had legally occupied the land and by the land law they fully own the
land,” Rithy said at the news conference.
"They came here seeking help
and preventing their land from being grabbed by the powerful and rich people
just for their benefits.”
Chrea Sochenda, Sam Rainsy
Party parliamentarian for Kampong Thom, said authorities were forcing villagers
to thumbprint documents stating they had accepted a small amount of money in
exchange for land.
"I think what the people
protested is correct,” Sochenda said. "We will assist them legally and if
violence occurs it is the authorities’ responsibility.”