OFFICIALS in Kampong Thom province’s Kraya commune say they will decide this month whether to grant plots of farmland to villagers evicted from their land in December, but affected families remain concerned they will not be able to plant crops ahead of this year’s wet season.
The evicted villagers – many of them military veterans – have been shifted to a relocation site at Kraya’s Thmor Samleang village, where they have built homes, but are still awaiting replacement farmland promised by the authorities.
Kampong Thom Deputy Governor Out Sam On said there had been a delay in the granting of the land because officials were checking to see that prospective plots did not have other owners.
“We have eight committees to study about providing farmland to the villagers,” he said, and added that on May 23, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries (MAFF) in Phnom Penh would make a decision as to the size of land to be granted to each family.
On December 15, some 1,700 families were evicted from Kraya commune to make way for a rubber plantation to be developed by the Vietnamese Tin Bien company.
Om Saran, an evictee residing at Thmor Samleang, said that if villagers did not get farmland in the run-up to the rainy season, when farmers typically begin planting rice seedlings, they would have no crops to harvest later in the year.
“We are worried that if authorities do not provide us farmland on time, villagers will not have food for the next year,” he said.
His fellow villager Prum Roth alleged that since the eviction, local officials had treated the residents like “animals”.
“The authorities only cheated us to agree to move to a new place and then abandoned us. They should provide us with farmland as soon as they can, as they know we depend on farmland,” he said.
Poe Oumoete, provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, called on officials to speed up the process of finding the land.
But Pich Sophea, Santuk district governor, said the Kampong Thom provincial council was merely awaiting the decision of MAFF.
“If they approve, our local authorities will start helping the villagers, he said. Ministry officials could not be reached for comment on Thursday.