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Preah Sihanouk farmers accuse NGO of blocking access to farms

Preah Sihanouk farmers accuse NGO of blocking access to farms

VILLAGERS in Preah Sihanouk province said yesterday that they had once again been barred from planting rice by an NGO that has claimed ownership of their farmland.

Representatives of 23 families in Kampong Seila district’s Ou Bak Roteh commune said they will have no food to eat unless they are allowed to plant crops before the wet season intensifies. However, they said that when farmers tried to access portions of 270 hectares of disputed land on Sunday, they were blocked by representatives of the Cambodia Disabled Survivors’ Association.

Nget Ly, a representative of the villagers, said the families had not been allowed to plant rice on their land for more than a year. “We depend on our farmland, but the association does not allow us to plant,” she said.

Touch Seouly, director of the NGO, which is based in Kampong Speu province, yesterday confirmed that his staff blocked villagers from planting rice on the land.

“Villagers accuse me, calling me a bad man. But I have been planting rice on my own land,” he said. “I did not plant on the villagers’ land.”

Touch Seouly says that provincial authorities awarded the disputed land in Preah Sihanouk to his organisation in 2006, along with 1,654 hectares in Kampong Speu province. He says the land was given to his organisation so that it could provide farmland to disabled people and former
soldiers.

However, many of the villagers making competing claims to the land in Preah Sihanouk province say they have lived there since 1980.
The dispute has led to occasional standoffs, as both sides have armed themselves with weapons.

Kampong Seila district governor Kheng Teng said yesterday that he had ordered the creation of a committee charged with reaching a peaceful resolution to the long-running dispute.

“We will do this according to the law,” Kheng Teng said.

But Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the local rights group Adhoc, said he believes local officials have no real desire to settle the villagers’ problems.

“Authorities are willing to support Touch Seouly,” he said.

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