DOUNG, Svay Rieng - A few weeks ago, Cheat Phy took a big risk. In the dead of night
he snuck into territory claimed by Vietnam and planted a field in rice seedlings.
The 66-year-old former monk returned home safely but in the morning Vietnamese farmers
had trampled the seedlings.
Phy says he risked arrest because he had no choice. The land - 2.5 hectares
- used to be his before it was seized by Vietnam in 1995, he said. He only has
a half-hectare left inside Cambodia.
"We have to take risks to plant rice on that land because if we do not do it
we will have no food," he said.
Phy is just one of many here who says land has been seized by Vietnamese authorities
who claim it is not Cambodia's.
Phy, who has lived in Doung most of his life, estimates about 30% of the villagers
have moved away because their land has been taken.
Another villager, Klang Saran, 59, said she may also move soon. "I will leave
the village some day if this problem continues because I can't find any food to feed
myself and my family."
Prom Lyna, chief of cabinet of the Svay Rieng governor, said that there are six Khmer
houses on land now claimed by Vietnam. He has encouraged the families not to leave
"We want to strengthen and encourage them to live there because we want to show
that this is Khmer land. If we leave the land it, means it is Vietnam's," he
Svay Rieng Governor Loy Sophath said: "On the map this land apparently belongs
to Vietnam but according to history Khmers were living and growing crops there. One
day Vietnam told us that this land belongs to them and if we wanted to grow crops
there we had to ask permission or rent it." He said they did neither and the
land was later seized.
The press attaché at the Vietnamese Embassy in Phnom Penh said: "I have
no comment except that this is a false, concocted story." But local officials
insist it's true. Lyna said that in 1995 Svay Rieng authorities sent a letter to
officials in the Vietnamese province of Tay Ninh, asking them to stop pushing Khmers
off their land. The Vietnamese replied the land belongs to them.
Sophath said that Svay Rieng was leaving the problem to both governments to solve.
He said that maps drawn during French colonial times should be used to prove that
the land is Cambodian ownered.
Phy said he could prove his ownership. During the reign of King Sihanouk he held
a land license and paid tax on it of between 5-25 riels per hectare.
"I used to pay the tax to the Khmer government. Why do they now want me to pay
tax to Vietnam? I do not agree to pay it," he said.
Mey Thou, 48, said he used to own 8 hectares but now all but 0.3 hectares had been
claimed by Vietnam. He said his immediate Vietnamese neighbors had not seized his
land. Rather, it is those living further inside Vietnam, he said.
"I'm worried for next year. Maybe they will have taken this place where you
are sitting now," he told a Post reporter.
Thou said during Pol Pot's regime, the border post was 300 meters from the Chek Meas
River. Now it is about 3km further inside Cambodia.