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Preah Vihear land disputants told to desist

A villager from Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district points out examples of evictions on a poster during a protest in 2014 outside of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh.
A villager from Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district points out examples of evictions on a poster during a protest in 2014 outside of the National Assembly in Phnom Penh. Eli Meixler

Preah Vihear land disputants told to desist

Three community representatives, threatened with legal action by Preah Vihear provincial authorities on Friday, yesterday said they will continue to lead some 200 families in protest over disputed land in Choam Ksan district’s Kantuot commune.

Following years of protests – which most recently saw 100 people representing 253 families demonstrate in Phnom Penh on Thursday and file a petition at the Ministry of Interior – Preah Vihear authorities warned of legal action in a notice dated January 15 that named Phan Thoeun, Kan Ngem and Kin Chantha as initiators of the protests.

“If the three people continue persuading people to protest, the authorities will take measures to strengthen the preservation policy and development in the Preah Vihear Temple area and to secure the security system along the border,” read the announcement, which stated that in accordance with terms of Preah Vihear temple becoming a UNESCO World Heritage Site, the government has planned for the relocation of the villagers living in surrounding areas to the “Samdech Techo Nature Village”.

The terms of the plan provide compensation of $500, two hectares of farmland, construction materials and a 5,000-square-metre plot of land to build a home. Authorities say the three activists have accepted the plan, but continue to lead 40 families in protest.

Phan Thoeun, one of the three community representatives named in the announcement, denied accepting the government’s offer, and said the authorities had threatened to forcefully evict families, some of whom he said have lived on the land since 1962.

“The provincial authority is the one who grabbed the people’s land . . . by deploying the forces to demolish and pull down 62 houses since early 2012,” he said, adding that some villagers have already been evicted and forced to live in the forest.

Lor Chan, Preah Vihear provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that while some residents accepted the government’s relocation plan, many have not yet received the agreed upon compensation, while others are holding out until they see evidence the government can fulfil its promises.

“Their protest had no violence . . . It is not illegal and is also based on the national constitution, so it is intimidation if the provincial hall issues the announcement,” Chan said, urging authorities to peacefully resolve the matter.

Neither provincial governor Om Mara nor UNESCO could be reached for comment yesterday.

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