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Three-way land dispute sparks anew

Three-way land dispute sparks anew

A GROUP of villagers in Kampong Speu province yesterday accused members of the Cambodian Disabled Survivors’ Association of illegally clearing their land, deepening a convoluted three-party dispute involving 1,500 hectares spread out across three provinces.

Phon Phen, a 31-year-old resident of Veal Thom village in Phnom Srouch district, said that 10 members of the association had used a tractor to clear rice fields.

“I saw a tractor this morning clearing our villagers’ land, and I recognised that they were Touch Seouly’s staff,” he said, referring to the director of the CDSA.

“I was too afraid to protest because Touch Seouly’s association members are violent people.”

Since April of this year, the CDSA has clashed with villagers who claim to have lived on the land since 2004, as well as with local Royal Cambodian Armed Forces soldiers who assert a similar claim.

Touch Seouly yesterday denied the allegations and accused the military of illegally grabbing the disputed land.

“I am with my tractor at home today,” he said. “Perhaps the villagers are confusing my association’s members with the soldiers from the RCAF base.”

Touch Seouly said that in 2000, provincial authorities allowed the association to develop about 1,500 hectares of land in Kampong Speu, Kampot and Preah Sihanouk provinces. But on April 29 of this year, Preah Sihanouk authorities ruled that the concession was invalid because it had not been approved by all three provincial governors.

Sann Kan, Veal Thom village chief, said yesterday that he had “no capacity to solve the dispute”, but that violent acts carried out by the association’s members had injured more than 10 people since 2000.

Mom Chheang, commander of the RCAF unit stationed at Stung Chral Development Centre, said the base was part of Veal Thom village, and that his soldiers had in the past cleared land to plant acacia trees. “It is RCAF land, and we have to develop it for our military base,” he said.

Ouch Leng, a land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said the CDSA had a hidden agenda.

“The association wants to grab land from the villagers and military to give to a Korean company so the company can invest in planting corn and producing animal feed,” he said.

Tep Mean, Phnom Srouch district governor, said the dispute was “complicated” because the land was claimed by three separate groups. He said he had asked all three to provide legal documentation to prove their claims to the land.

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