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Land row villagers see hope

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Villagers locked in Preah Vihear land disputes petition for a solution at PM Hun Sen’s residence in Phnom Penh last week. Heng Chivoan

Land row villagers see hope

The Preah Vihear provincial authority and other relevant parties issued a statement on Wednesday that contained five points aimed to end a land dispute between 330 families and private company Metrei Pheap.

This follows the submission of a petition requesting Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene in the matter.

The villagers, from Choam Ksan district’s Yeang commune, had sought the release of 14 people who were placed in pre-trial detention on January 19 for allegedly clearing state forest and grabbing land.

The five-point guidance was released after a meeting between the provincial directors of the departments of environment, agriculture and land management, a Metrei Pheap representative and civil society organisations. It was presided by provincial governor Un Chanda.

Chanda told The Post on Wednesday that all parties agreed to the guidance intended to solve the long-running dispute and that the plan would be implemented next week.

In outlining the five points, he said the first is to create a joint task force to measure the land. Second is the agreement to speed up the registration of Metrei Pheap’s land in order to facilitate the allocation of plots for the villagers.

Third, Metrei Pheap has agreed to clearly determine the boundary of its concession and have enough security guards to prevent further land grabbing, which only hindered finding a solution.

Fourth, the authorities allowed the people to farm the area peacefully, but cease further land grabbing in the disputed areas and await official approval.

Lastly, the provincial court will stop issuing orders to arrest more people.

“Regarding the detained villagers, human rights groups have worked with the provincial court. They filed a complaint at the Appeal Court asking it to grant bail. Therefore, the human rights groups have finished the legal process with the court,” Chanda said.

According to the petition submitted to Hun Sen on January 31, the villagers claimed the dispute started last year after Metrei Pheap, owned by Long Chanveasna, received approval for an agro-industry concession to farm animals on 8,520ha for 50 years.

Metrei Pheap representative Rim Khem told The Post on Wednesday that the company would cooperate with authorities to end the conflict. However, he requested people to stop trespassing on the firm’s property and ignore ill-intentioned people inciting them to grab more land.

“We will cooperate because the company has received investment approval from the government. Regarding quickening of the land registration process and defining boundaries, we will follow the authorities’ instructions,” he said.

Lor Chann, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, who attended the meeting, said he welcomed the guidance.

Adhoc had requested authorities to expedite a solution to the dispute and take specific action to prevent further delays. Chann said that if implemented, the land dispute would be solved.

“If similar cases occur, we should take proactive action. Don’t wait until disputes have already happened. Instead, take action to prevent them."

“If we can prevent issues before they happen, it is better, and the local people should stop all land grabbing and allow the authorities to do their work,” he said.

Lay Ly Huor, a representative of the families, told The Post on Wednesday that if the authorities offered a resolution, the villagers would be willing to cooperate and would prevent anyone clearing more land.

“I would like to ask the authorities and the court to release the 14 people who were detained. If there is resolution to the land dispute, please release them,” he appealed.