THE opposition Sam Rainsy Party claims authorities in Kampong Thom province’s Santuk district have begun clearing “thousands of hectares” of land belonging to 160 families as compensation for victims of a high-profile land eviction last year.
It also claims a portion of the land has been awarded to the Vietnamese rubber firm responsible for the evictions.
Men Sothavarin, an SRP lawmaker representing Kampong Thom, wrote to Interior Minister Sar Kheng last week, calling for him to intervene in the clearance of the land, which he claims began in Kraya commune on December 2.
“Article 5 of the Land Law states that no individual should have his property confiscated if the confiscation is not in the public interest,” the letter read.
“The confiscation must be done according to legal procedures after the granting of fair and just compensation.”
In December of last year, as many as 1,700 families were forced off their land in Kraya commune to make way for a 8,100-hectare rubber plantation being developed by Vietnam’s Tin Bien company. The villagers, many of them military veterans, were shifted seven kilometres away to Thmor Samleang village, where they built new homes. Provincial authorities said in June that they planned to distribute plots of farmland as compensation.
Men Sothavarin said yesterday that land was being cleared in Thmor Samleang for 77 families evicted last year, but that large parts of it were also being handed to Tin Bien. He wrote that the evictees should
be given unoccupied land, while the handover of land to Tin Bien lay outside the law altogether.
“It is illegal that the authorities take thousands of hectares of the people’s land to give to the Vietnamese company,” he said. He added that deal had been done with the collusion of Santuk district governor Pich Sothea.
Pich Sothea dismissed the allegation yesterday, saying the land had been provided to 77 families of disabled veterans in line with existing government policy. The 160 families were in unlawful occupation of the land and though their crops will not be razed, he said they would not be paid compensation. He said “more than 1,000 hectares” had been cleared.
“I have not been involved with the Tin Bien Company,” Pich Sothea said. “If I took that land to give to a Vietnamese company, I would resign from my post, I guarantee it.” He added that if the accusation “affected [his] honour”, he would take legal action against Men Sothavarin.
Tin Bien could not be reached for comment yesterday.