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Standoff over Tbong Khmum farmland enters week two

Villagers protest the clearing of farmland they say belongs to them in Tbong Khmum province earlier this week. Photo supplied
Villagers protest the clearing of farmland they say belongs to them in Tbong Khmum province earlier this week. Photo supplied

Standoff over Tbong Khmum farmland enters week two

Some 300 demonstrators from seven villages in Tbong Khmum province are entering their second week of protest against a local company’s ongoing attempts to clear farmland they say belongs to them, claiming the government tricked them out of their land in the 1990s.

The villagers began protesting last Friday, building camps on the 500 hectares the government had granted to Sopheak Nika Investment company.

Ros Bunnat, 43, said that villagers have used the land for farming since 1979. In 1990, he claims the villagers were asked to thumbprint documents that authorities promised would be used to create land deeds.

But no such deeds materialised, leaving them nothing to defend their claim 27 years later. Chhem Sam Ang, current Kor commune chief, said the former chief who took the thumbprints has since passed away.

In late 2016, after purchasing the land from the government, Sopha Nika began clearing it in preparation of planting rubber trees, triggering this week’s protests.

“People said that they will continue protesting until they get the land back,” Bunnat said, explaining that protesters are seeking a 25 meter by 50 meter plot of land per family.

On Sunday, district governor Keng Bunna issued a letter to the protesters, saying the establishment of camps constituted “illegal land-grabbing” and promising “legal measures” should they not be dismantled within a day.

Attempts to reach district au-thorities or company representatives were unsuccessful.

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