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Preah Vihear villagers petition interior ministry over eight-year land dispute

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Villagers submitted a complaint against four representatives for selling their land. Heng Chivoan

Preah Vihear villagers petition interior ministry over eight-year land dispute

Some 40 people representing 180 families from Kantuot commune in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district on Wednesday gathered at the Ministry of Interior to submit their complaint seeking intervention in a long-standing land dispute.

The 180 families have been locked in an eight-year dispute with the National Preah Vihear Authority and previously chose four other villagers to represent them in their fight for the land.

Their complaint accused the four of betraying them when the government allocated 490m by 1,000m of land and divided it into small plots for the families on January 22.

They said before the government granted the land, the four had already removed the 100 families from the list of beneficiaries, leaving them landless.

Nhem Sarath, one of the protesting villagers, told The Post on Wednesday that besides the Ministry of Interior, they had also lodged their complaints to the Anti-Corruption Unit and Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet.

He identified the four former representatives as Phan Thoeun, Sat Nheb, Kin Chantha and Chan Sophea.

“We trusted them, but they betrayed us. We have initially sought a solution from the local authorities, but they said it was beyond their jurisdiction. Then we turned to the provincial authorities, but police wanted to arrest us. So we have no choice but to come here [for a solution],” he said.

Sarath said only 80 of the 180 families had received plots from the government. He alleged the four had colluded in selling the remaining plots for their benefit.

Another protester, Vong Saron said: “Only 80 families received the 10m by 100m plot. The remaining 100 families did not receive anything because their names had been removed by the four representatives before the government distributed the land.

“I had always participated in previous protests everywhere with them, but my name is not on the list of beneficiaries. So we filed a complaint against their corrupt practice,” he said.

Saron said an unidentified official at the Ministry of Interior received their petition and promised to respond.

Thoeun, one of the four accused, rejected the allegation on Wednesday. He claimed the protesting families had already received land but sold it to others for between $3,000 and $5,000.

“What they said is not true. All of them had already received land. Some of them protested because they were given land in undesirable locations. Each plot of land was distributed to the families through a lottery,” he said.

Lor Chan, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said he had not received a detailed report about the case and will look into it.

“The authority should find a solution for them instead of letting them complain to national-level authorities like that because this is a small issue,” he said.

In their previous complaint to relevant institutions, the villagers also accused Suos Yara, a lawmaker from the ruling Cambodian People’s Party, and Chuch Phoeun, the National Preah Vihear Authority chairman, of colluding with provincial authorities in forcefully evicting them from their land in January 2012.

The officials, according to the complaint, had ordered soldiers to destroy houses, schools, medical facilities and pagodas, claiming they were situated in the Preah Vihear Temple preservation zone.

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