Anlong Veng district authorities in Oddar Meanchey province on Wednesday allegedly prevented a civil society organisation and United Nations officials from investigating a land dispute involving 122 families living in Anlong commune.
The villagers have accused the authorities of grabbing their land illegally. Officials, however, claim that these people came and cleared land owned by the state, according to In Kongchit, a coordinator at NGO Licadho.
Kongchit confirmed that on Wednesday, he and two UN officials were blocked by Anlong Veng authorities from meeting the people and investigating the situation. He said it was illegal as they were prohibiting a civil society organisation from helping people.
“When we were preparing to meet the people, police, soldiers and Military Police, 15 in total, stopped us from going, saying we had not informed them in advance. They told us to go and meet the Anlong Veng district governor. I asked them about the land dispute as well, but they did not say anything, only telling me that these people had cleared state land,” Kongchit said.
Hor Chin Virakyuth, Anlong Veng district governor, told The Post that he invited the Licadho and UN officials to talk to them about the case. He echoed the police, saying the villagers had illegally cleared and taken control of state land without permission.
Chin Virakyuth said that the villagers had been given land in the past, but they keep demanding this specific area they have now taken.
“The authorities have not banned the UN officials and the Licadho employee, but rather invited them to discuss the problem first. They have already visited me and we had a discussion. Regarding the land dispute, I told them already, we have given some people money to move off of the land, but some have not accepted the money yet,” Chin Virakyuth confirmed.
Hoeu Hak, 30, representative of the 122 families involved in the land dispute over 400 hectares in O’tameng village, said the villagers have had possession of the land since 2006, and in 2013, one private company cleared and destroyed their crops by claiming that the land is reserved for them. The villagers filed a complaint to demand the land back, but the authorities ignored them and did not help to find a solution.
Lin could not be reached for comment on the allegations on Wednesday.
“At present, we, the families, live in fear of losing our farmland and houses. We might lose everything if the senior officials do not intervene and help us. We plead for [Minister of Land Management] Chea Sophara to help us,” Hak said.