Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Kampot villagers ask for Hun Sen's help in Bokor land dispute

Kampot villagers ask for Hun Sen's help in Bokor land dispute

Kampot villagers ask for Hun Sen's help in Bokor land dispute

Evicted families say they have occupied the farmland since 2000, though authorities say they were squatting in a conservation area.

MORE than 20 families who were evicted from Bokor National Park in Kampot province last week arrived in Phnom Penh on Monday to submit a complaint to the National Assembly and to call on Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene on their behalf.

Local authorities sent about 60 armed men to Kilo Dapi village in Kampot's Teuk Chhou district Thursday to clear about 48 hectares of land to be used by Camland Co, a private fruit company, village representative Noch Tha, 54, told the Post on Monday.

THE AUTHORITIES BURNED DOWN OUR HOUSES AND REMOVED US FROM OUR LAND.

Authorities maintain that the villagers were squatting illegally in a conservation area.
But Noch Tha said the authorities had "burned down our houses and removed us from our land".

"We've come to Phnom Penh today to submit our complaint to [National Assembly President Heng Samrin] and Samdech Hun Sen, and we will stay here until we receive justice," he said.

Noch Tha said the 23 families had occupied their plots of farmland, measuring around two hectares each, since 2000, though he acknowledged that they did not have permission from local authorities.

"The authorities told us it was illegal to occupy land in Bokor National Park, but surrounding our land there was not a park, but a durian farm," Noch Tha said.

Se Da, governor of Teuk Chhou district, said he was considering an investigation into the incident because of uncertainties about land rights and jurisdiction in the area.

The villagers resided along the border between the park's conservation areas and an economic land concession that has not yet been approved by the government.

"We were concerned that the villagers were residing in the conservation area of the park, but we are considering how to resolve their problem," Se Da said.

Yang Phirom, director of Bokor National Park, could not be reached for comment Monday. He has said that he considers the villagers illegal squatters and has told them to leave the area before.

Monitoring staff for Licadho, a local rights NGO, were on hand for the eviction, which they described as peaceful. Licadho representatives were sympathetic to the villagers' grievances, though they noted that the villagers possessed no legal title to the land, and that it could legally belong to the national park.

"This is a legal issue, and it is difficult to know who is right and who is wrong," said Ngeth Soseng, Licadho's Kampot provincial coordinator. "But we will continue to monitor the situation".

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