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Natives urge end to land rows

Natives urge end to land rows

More than 800 families of the Kui indigenous communities of Salachhdor and Chaom Prich living on over 4,000ha in Kampong Thom province are appealing to the authorities for a speedy resolution to land disputes caused by encroachment by outside parties.

Nguon Heang, a representative of the Chaom Prich community in Sala Visay commune’s Talaek village in Prasat Balang district, said her community consisted of 669 families on 3,716ha that was divided into two areas.

The first consists of 319 families settled on more than 300ha of forest land.

The second consists of 350 families who are not permanently settled, ranging across more than 2,000ha. Of the 350 families, about 50 are being negatively impacted by private firms and traders who have now allegedly cleared 100ha with the intention of seizing it.

“They are clearing it day and night and we demand that the authorities speed up their investigation and offer solutions to the problems with land our community is having,” she said.

Luon Nuon, a representative of the Salachhdor community in Sala Visay commune’s Kokir village in Prasat Balang district, said her community consisted of more than 200 families settled on 1,006ha but now all the land that remained for the community was only 361ha with 61ha of that being forest.

She claimed that the land had been lost because individuals and businesses from outside the region had arrived and then rapidly cleared and claimed it.

“My Kui indigenous people know less about how to do business, so they only work in the forest. I lost the land in the forest that Samdech [Prime Minister Hun Sen] entrusted to me to take care of though it belongs to the state.

“We’ve lost the forest, lakes and ponds. The old road that I used to walk on to the rice paddies has been blocked. So, I want this problem solved,” she said.

Prasat Balang district governor Vanak Sopheanith told The Post that in the past the district and provincial authorities had protected those two communities. They had gone on patrols there, filed court complaints on their behalf and educated the local people.

“The case is a small one, but we have continued to crack down on [the encroachments]. In the past, we had also gone there to educate them about the law. If there are reports from the communities, district authorities or anyone we will go there and crack down on them without fail,” he said.

Sala Visay commune Forestry Administration chief Phok Chetra said that in 2019 and 2020, the forest was heavily logged and the authorities had detained some loggers and also filed court complaints against some others.

“I don’t remember exactly how many we had detained and sent to court. Let me look up the records. But I would guess no fewer than 20 cases over a period of two years,” he said.

Chetra pointed out, however, that companies did not encroach on the land and that it was only individuals from other provinces that did so.

“Some of the people come from Kampong Cham province, some from other places. They buy it and then clear it. We have also seized excavators. We could not get there on time to catch them, so we then file a court complaint and search for them,” he said.

Chetra said community members had been instructed to patrol the area and exercise their rights as residents. And if they could not solve a problem, he said they had to report it to the authorities urgently and cooperate with them fully in order for the law to be successfully enforced.

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