Nearly 300 people representing 9,095 families in Preah Sihanouk province on Monday filed a petition to the provincial administration seeking intervention in a long-running land dispute.
The villagers submitted the petition after their initial request to hold a march to coincide with the 71st international Human Rights Day on Tuesday was rejected.
In their petition, the representatives said the 9,095 families risked losing their homes and 16,609ha of farmland in Prey Nop and Stung Hav districts to “powerful individuals” if there was no compromise.
They urged the provincial governor and the director of the provincial Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to speedily demarcate land for them and issue titles.
“We have built homes and occupied and cultivated the land for our livelihoods since 1990-1995. We lived on the land peacefully until 2005-2008, when private companies, traders and powerful individuals grabbed it.
“We are the rightful owners with valid certificates proving our occupation of the land. We also have documentation issued by the local authorities including identification cards and family books,” the petition states.
Yu Veasna, one of the representatives, said the provincial authority had accepted the petition after turning down their requests to march or hold a public forum.
“We want to send a message to the government, asking it to expedite the process and urge the provincial governor to find a speedy solution for us. Our communities have been locked in this land dispute for between 15 and 20 years already,” he said.
Veasna said the Preah Sihanouk administration had accepted the petition and agreed to forward it to the provincial governor.
Last Tuesday, representatives of 11 communities in the province sent a request to the provincial governor inviting him to join 250 other villagers – all of whom are involved in the land dispute – in celebrating Human Rights Day.
Citing reasons for the rejection, the provincial administration said it regularly organised public forums at each town, district and commune to hear and address people’s concerns, and also held consultative forums with civil society twice a year concerning land disputes and other requests from villagers.
Provincial administration spokesman Kheang Phearum confirmed the acceptance of the villagers’ petition.
“We allowed six of the representatives to submit the petition and other documentation because they did not cause any incident. But we cannot allow them to march or hold a forum,” Phearum said.
Cheap Sotheary, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, called on the provincial authority to find the villagers a solution to the long-standing land dispute. She stressed that while holding regular consultative forums with civil society is welcome, this could not end all land disputes.
“Submitting a petition to the provincial administration is not an act of protest, it is just a public appeal for a solution to their long-running land dispute. It serves as a reminder of their basic right to property ownership and legitimate settlement,” she said.