VILLAGERS in Pailin municipality say high-ranking local officials are preventing farmers from tending lands granted to them by the government.
"About 80 hectares of land have been taken away by municipal authorities," said Vor Roum, chief of Stueng Trang district. "Our people are very poor and rely on this land for their survival."
Neang Thy, a farmer in Stueng Trang, said authorities told him his latest corn harvest would be his last.
"I have worked my farm since 1999," he said. "Now, authorities say the land belongs to the municipality for development and I can no longer farm it."
The dispute arose when municipal officials last week attempted to survey boundaries around Preal Mountain outside Pailin, according to Yem Lang, governor of Sala Krau commune.
The governor said officials are not trying to steal land from farmers but protect it from illegal logging and attempts by local residents to take land that doesn't belong to them and sell it to others.
"We are trying to protect the area as we decide how to develop the municipal land," Yem Lang said.
Vor Roum said the municipality had previously stated in 2001 that it would grant rights to the disputed land to the homeless as a social land concession but that nothing has yet materialised.
Neang Thy said officials have other plans for the land. "They say it will be used for future development in the municipality, but they simply want to sell it to rich businessmen," he said.