Sixty-five families in Kampong Thom province are preparing to file a new complaint against a provincial deputy governor who they say has been trying to unlawfully force them from their land since 2004.
The families, who live in Baray district’s Bak Snar commune, on Sunday staged a protest on the disputed 160 hectares of land against the official, Ot Sam Orn, who reiterated yesterday that the land was awarded to him in a concession in 1997.
Ouch Chanthorn, the leader of the protest, said that numerous complaints filed to authorities at all levels in recent years had not led to a resolution of the dispute.
Nevertheless, he said, a new complaint would be filed to provincial authorities “soon”.
He acknowledged that the villagers lacked land titles, but said their claim to the land was stronger than Ot Sam Orn’s.
“We don’t have official papers for this land. But we have taken control over it and farmed it for more than 10 years. It is our land,” he said. “The villagers asked Mr Ot Sam Orn to give the land back and stop using his power to restrict the villagers.”
He went on to say that Ot Sam Orn first expressed an interest in developing the land in 2004, when he asked the families to work for him on a rubber plantation at the site.
Because no official contract was ever presented, Ouch Chanthorn said, the families decided instead to go ahead with their original plan of cultivating beans and potatoes.
Since 2008, Ot Sam Orn has been trying to stop this by periodically hiring tractors to destroy individual plots of crops, he added.
However, Ot Sam Orn said yesterday that he could produce documents – though not a land title – proving that local officials had given him the land in 1997.
“I do not have the official title, but I have enough documents from the commune that gave this land to me,” he said.
He added that he had rented the land out to local families, who had in turn sold it to new families.
“When there were problems, the people who bought the land from the villagers who rented the land from me accused me of taking their land,” he said.
Prach Sa Um, a senior official in Baray district, said he believed the land belonged to Ot Sam Orn, pointing to the fact that he had at least some documentation to support his claim.
“This land is not owned by the people,” he said.