Wary villagers in Kratie province’s Snuol district – where four of their own were shot last week by guards working for agro-development firm TTY – saw the first concrete step toward the promised return of their land yesterday.
Heng Chivoan/Phnom Penh Post
A man stands near construction equipment on cleared land last week in Kratie province’s Snuol district, where security guards hired by TTY Co Ltd shot four villagers during a protest.
In a meeting with villagers, Environment Minister Mok Mareth delivered the news that land in Pi Thnou commune’s Veal Bei village – seized in an economic land concession – would be returned to families who had previously harvested cassava on it.
“All villagers have to be honest and cooperate with the joint committee to provide their true land size,” he said.
Those who lay claim to between one and five hectares will have their land returned first, he added.
The Ministry of Interior issued a statement last week promising to return land to about 380 families in Kratie province, many of whom had blocked national road 76a after Wednesday’s shootings.
The TTY company received an economic land concession in 2008 covering more than 9,000 hectares of land in Snuol district.
Villager No Sos said the minister had given Hun Sen’s word yesterday that their land would be given back.
“At first, I didn’t think they would find a resolution as promised,” No Sos said. “I thought they had just cheated villagers to open the road – now I believe the promise.”
Land with houses on it will be measured first, followed by farmland, he said.
Sar Cham Rong, deputy governor of Kratie, said his joint committee will begin measuring land tomorrow. “We will provide the land to people who lived and planted there, but we will not provide the land to villagers who just say the land belongs to them, but who do nothing on that land,” he said.
Sar Cham Rong said that villagers who had lived in the area’s wildlife sanctuary had never possessed official documents, but the government would return their land and issue land titles.
Yon Phorn, the uncle of 22-year-old Mong Toch, who was taken to Vietnam for medical treatment after security guards armed with AK-47s shot him, said a joint committee that included the provincial governor, a police representative, a land management official and an environment ministry official would begin preparing land titles from February 4.
“Mok Makreth said that after his joint committee finished working, he would give the land title to all villagers; it is a just resolution that villagers can accept,” he said.
“Now we have confidence in the government’s policy. We think they will honour their promise.” Mong Toch was scheduled to marry on February 2, but his wedding has been delayed because he condition remained critical, Yon Phorn said.
Two other villagers seriously injured when security guards opened fire last Wednesday were treated at Kampong Cham referral hospital and one was taken to Snuol district hospital.
Villagers say a fifth person remains missing after the protest, but is not clear whether he was shot.
Mok Mareth, who emphasized that the government had no involvement with the security guards decision to shoot, pledged 2 million riel of his own money to Mong Toch and 1 million riel to the other victims yesterday, while the provincial governor pledged 2 million riel to each victim.
“Prime Minister Hun Sen ordered me and Minister Sar Kheng, the interior minister, to arrest the perpetrators who shot the villagers and those who provided the guns,” he said. “It is the company’s fault that security guards shot the villagers.”
Heng Sarath, deputy general of TTY, said his company expects to receive a sub-decree outlining how many hectares it will lose.
“We planned to cut about 700 hectares of land for villagers, but now maybe we cut about 800 hectares.”
He was still looking for the security guards, he said.
“They did not shoot villagers – they shot the ground and the bullets ricocheted up and hit villagers. If they had aimed for the villagers, a lot of people would have died.”
Police have yet to arrest anyone over the shootings.