Hun Sen’s army of student land measurers may have marked ground for them in 2012, but representatives of about 20 ethnic families in Ratanakkiri province said yesterday that their combined 50 hectares of land has now been invaded by hordes of families digging for gems.
Chhay Thy, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said his organisation would investigate claims that ethnic Tumpoun families in Bakeo district’s Keh Chung commune had lost land to almost 200 families and their “unofficial” village bosses who had taken up residence on it.
“The 50 hectares was measured by the volunteer students in 2012, but the unofficial village chief, deputy village chief and 191 migrant families grabbed it and are living on it illegally,” he said.
The mining families had migrated to the area since 2010, Thy added, but the rate at which they had been coming increased following the land measuring.
“Living and mining there, those new people did not know where they can live, so they decided to live on the [disputed] land,” Thy said.
The new group claimed district authorities had appointed a chief and deputy chief at the newly created “Borloy” village – on land the ethnic families say is theirs, Thy said.
Rochom Phang, 44, chief of the established Roy village, said he had asked the new families to leave but that recognition from authorities – which he said was “not official” – had enabled them to instead settle in.
“I do not know where those new people came from,” Phang said.
Soth Soeurn, 56, chief of the new village, said the migrant families had lived at the site for eight years.
“We have come from many provinces,” he said, adding that they had enough documents to prove they had the right to live there.
But Heng Bun Than, Bakeo district governor, said the new families had grabbed land illegally and no new village had been created.
Officials would meet to discuss the case, he added.