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Petitioners bring years-long land disputes to ministry

Chhim Norn, a 70 year-old villager from Preah Sihanouk province, holds an image of Prime Minister Hun Sen and First Lady Bun Rany outside the Ministry of Land Management on Monday, where he and several hundred other community representatives from four provinces delivered 37 petitions over longstanding unsolved land disputes.
Chhim Norn, a 70 year-old villager from Preah Sihanouk province, holds an image of Prime Minister Hun Sen and First Lady Bun Rany outside the Ministry of Land Management on Monday, where he and several hundred other community representatives from four provinces delivered 37 petitions over longstanding unsolved land disputes. Hong Menea

Petitioners bring years-long land disputes to ministry

Some 300 villagers representing over 6,800 families delivered a slew of petitions to the Council of Ministers and Ministry of Land Management on Monday demanding resolution to longstanding land disputes affecting about 19,000 hectares over four provinces.

The delivery of the 37 petitions, one for each community involved, was organised by the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC). Some of the disputes are over a decade old.

Sen Chantha, a villager from Preah Sihanouk’s Prey Nop district, said that 106 families in his commune, Ream, have been left in limbo since 2007 over an unresolved dispute over 300 hectares. While there have been many attempts at solutions, none have come to fruition, he said, and residents cannot farm or live on the land.

“Our livelihood is really deeply affected because we are waiting for the land dispute to be settled," he said, urging authorities to expedite the process of resolution.

Meanwhile, Khiev Savon, a community representative from Romeas Hek district in Svay Rieng province, said that in Ampil commune the NK Ventures company has encroached on some 800 hectares belonging to 440 families since 2014.

“The land was ours before, and then the state invested it in a private company without our permission,” she said. “I came here for the minister to hand us over land; we have no land for housing, no farms for cultivation."

NK Ventures was granted a 1,200-hectare land concession in Ampil and Koki communes in 2010 by the Ministry of Agriculture.

"Before the people decided to appear before the top institutions of the nation, they asked for intervention from provincial authorities and their local authorities many times, but they did not work for them," said Nhil Pheap, a community coordinator for the farming coalition.

At the Ministry of Land Management, an adviser to the Ministry who declined to comment or identify himself to The Post, appeared to mock villagers, asking with a laugh why they would come so far after one farmer told him their dispute was over just a few hectares. However, the deputy director of administration, Ol Sokyous, addressed the petitioners, saying he would look into the cases to determine which parties are at fault.

"What they want cannot be quick," he said. "When we deal with it, it needs time."

CCFC’s Pheap said the government should speed up the resolution process, cautioning that the system’s continued failure to address their concerns would result in a continued loss of faith in government.

"People stop believing in local authorities, but if these top [national-level] institutions cannot resolve them, I and those people don’t know where we should go to put the petition anymore," he said.

What’s more, he said, some 300 villagers from Romeas Hek and Svay Chrum districts were unable to attend yesterday’s event as the local authorities blocked the roads. This marks the third time in six days that authorities have take action to block the NGO’s activities.

On Thursday last week, provincial police in Tbong Khmum broke up a CCFC International Women’s Day event, while on Wednesday CCFC representatives were stopped from hosting an event with local farmers in Takeo province. There, provincial police interrogated them as to whether they were connected to the Cambodia National Rescue Movement, a group formed by exiled ex-opposition members that the government has labelled as a terrorist organisation.

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