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Land spat prompts posters

Land spat prompts posters

FEARING eviction from their farmland, villagers in Koh Kong province spent yesterday putting up posters urging local authorities to intervene on their behalf, a day after bulldozers moved in to clear land claimed by the villagers.

Phao Nheung, a representative of 34 families in Sre Ambel district’s Chi Khor Krom commune, said villagers put up seven large posters asking the government to step in and stop “powerful people” from taking over the land.

Is it fair for me? My land is still my land. Even if they try to erect fences, one day they will be removed.

On Monday, villagers said more than 20 armed police and civilian officials cleared 14.5 hectares of disputed farmland. The families have claimed 100 hectares of farmland in the area, but the Supreme Court last year ruled that the land fell on property previously awarded to two businessmen, including prominent Koh Kong tycoon Heng Huy.
Phao Nheung said yesterday that villagers had not been offered any compensation.

“Heng Huy has talked about paying compensation to villagers,” she said. “Instead, they cleared our land without compensation.”

Yesterday, Heng Huy said he had the right to clear the land, which he said would become part of a sugar plantation.

“They are bad people living illegally on my land. They want to ask money from me,” he said. Heng Huy said villagers blocked the road to his plantation and his office yesterday.

“Is it fair for me? My land is still my land. Even if they try to erect fences, one day they will be removed,” he said.

Local officials have so farsided with Heng Huy in the dispute. Provincial Governor Bun Leut yesterday said the villagers would have to remove the posters.

“This case is a court case that awarded [the land] to Heng Huy, so we must follow the court’s verdict,” he said.

However, the governor said that villagers would be compensated for relocating.

“I will ask the villagers and Heng Huy to compromise by paying some compensation to the villagers,” he said.

But the villagers, who claim to have lived on the land since 1980, say they aren’t interested in leaving.

Phao Nheung said the community has also asked the provincial court to intervene.

“We want the provincial court to open an investigation into the case because we are the group ... that is victimised by the dispute,” she said.

Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for local rights group Adhoc, said the posters the villagers put up yesterday should be a message telling all businessmen “not to grab villagers’ land violently”.

Koh Kong court prosecutor Top Chhun Heng said he was unfamiliar with the case.

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