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Pursat land dispute leads to destruction

Pursat land dispute leads to destruction

Villagers in Pursat province’s Veal Veng district, locked in an ongoing land dispute with local tycoon Try Pheap’s MDS Import Export Co Ltd, claimed yesterday that security forces and environmental officers opened fire and tried to burn down their houses and plantations on Tuesday after accusing them of living on state land.

“Police protecting Try Pheap’s company and environmental officers came to burn our crops and houses, but they [successfully] burned only three plantations … they had not burned houses yet [because] people were stopping them,” said Phan Channa, 50, whose farm was destroyed in the incident.

Channa said the security forces and environmental officials clashed with villagers from 8am until noon on Tuesday, adding that they returned in the evening, firing three shots at the roofs of houses.

About “1,000 rubber trees, 10 mango trees and some cashew and coconut trees [were destroyed], and they attempted to destroy our housing and plantations, but [their efforts] faltered, because the people protested against them,” another villager, Sok Da, 44, said.

“They accused [those of] us who have lived here since 1999 [with] legal plans of [illegally] living on state land, but they aimed to seize our land to give it to the company instead.”

According to a directive dated November 12, 2010, the government decided to give 4,420 hectares of economic land concessions to Pheap’s MDS to develop a Special Economic Zone and grow rubber.

“People in the area were soldiers’ wives who were on duty at the Cambodian-Thai border, and the land had been given by the commune chiefs in 1999 and 2000, but now the village and commune chiefs no longer recognise us, saying [the land] belongs to Try Pheap,” Da said.

Phuong Sothea, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Pursat, said: “It is the most unjust for them because the authorities do not seek a solution for them, instead they take sides with the company, using violence against them.”

Thmorda commune chief Prom Nhorn told reporters he was too busy to discuss the matter yesterday. Pursat provincial governor Khouch Sokha and representatives from MDS could not be reached.

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