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Preah Vihear families seek land dispute solution

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Villagers protest in Phnom Penh for a solution to their land dispute in Preah Vihear province in March. Sreng Meng Srun

Preah Vihear families seek land dispute solution

Almost 150 people representing some 253 families from Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district travelled to Phnom Penh on Tuesday to seek help from the authorities to resolve an ongoing land dispute.

The families, who have been evicted from their villages, had also petitioned the Ministry of Land Management on April 30 for a solution, but returned to the capital on Tuesday after claiming no action had been taken.

The petition said that on January 1, 2012, Chuk Phoeun, chief of the National Authority in Preah Vihear, and Suos Yara, a lawmaker from the Cambodian People’s Party, allegedly colluded with provincial authorities who brought the armed forces with land-clearing machinery to demolish houses, schools, hospitals, pagodas, and ultimately, forcefully evicting the villagers.

The area has been slated for development to house military veterans, with the villagers being forced off their land. However, they were previously offered some of the land they had originally lived on, but rejected it. The dispute prompted the villagers to submit petitions to national authorities in the capital multiple times. Until now, they claim that no solution has been forthcoming.

Phan Phoeun, one of 149 representatives, said the petitioners had spent five years appealing for solutions from Prime Minister Hun Sen, ministry officials and the National Assembly, demanding the legal right to the 3,335 hectares they had lived on, but to no avail.

“How can we still have hope? Now, the officials have asked us to return to the province. They told us to petition the provincial authorities for a solution instead. We don’t have much hope it will be resolved,” he said.

However, Yara claims the dispute was fabricated by a small group of individuals who wanted more than they had.

“We have already given them compensation, but this ongoing problem is being propagated by a group of corrupt individuals. As for me, I’m not involved in that area because it’s state public land,” he said.

Preah Vihear Provincial Governor Un Chenda could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.

Lor Chan, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said the land in that area has been in dispute for years.

“The provincial authorities should summon their representatives to resolve the dispute. It has been going on for many years without a solution. The villagers are struggling,” Chan said.

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