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Villagers protest farmland clearing for Phnom Penh airport project

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A bulldozer is seen clearing hectares of farmland for the new Phnom Penh International Airport project in Boeung Khyang commune’s Kampong Talong village in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district on May 14. Facebook

Villagers protest farmland clearing for Phnom Penh airport project

More than 40 families living in Boeung Khyang commune’s Kampong Talong village in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district have set up tents to guard their rice fields and blocked a road into their village to prevent a construction company from using machinery to clear their farmland for the new Phnom Penh International Airport project.

The 48 families claimed they had yet to receive the compensation for the loss of their farmland.

Long Sopheak, a resident of Kampong Talong village, told The Post on May 18 that the construction company working on the new Phnom Penh International Airport had recently used machinery to clear hectares of farmland belonging to him and other villagers.

“On [May 14] the company used machinery to clear farmland belonging to me and my brother – a total of more than 1.5ha.

“Our family’s farmland has not yet been paid for, and we have been planting early-rainy season rice for almost three weeks,” he said.

Kheang Sokmean, a neighbour of Sopheak, told The Post that on May 14 the villagers surrounded a bulldozer belonging to the construction firm and demanded its representatives properly compensate the villagers for their land and crops.

They then detained the driver who was later briefly held by local authorities. But representatives from the company have not mediated any solution and the driver has been released, he said.

Sokmean, who claims his residential land and farmland have both been affected by the construction of the airport’s first runway, said the company had repeatedly violated its agreement with the villagers.

He said that this is the third time that the company has violated an agreement which stated that there will be no clearing of farmland without first negotiating suitable compensation with the owner.

“Now, 48 of our villagers have set up tents to guard their farmland to prevent the company from sending people and machinery to clear it again,” he said.

Kandal Stung district governor Ouch Saovoeun told The Post that after the villagers had set up the roadblocks, provincial governor Kong Sophorn issued an invitation to 13 families whose land had been affected by the construction of the first runway to discuss compensation for them on May 18.

He said however that the villagers did not meet with Sophorn because some of them were too old to travel long distances.

He said Sophorn had invited only 13 families whose plots of land were affected by the first runway of the airport, but that all the Kampong Talong villagers were being affected by the entire project and have asked to meet with him to resolve their land issues, and so they have asked for an extension.

“We cannot force the villagers to remove their tents from their land until the settlement of the impact compensation has been completed,” he said.

Saovoeun said the number of plots affected by the airport construction totals more than 2,000, but only 1,000 plots or so have been taken care of thus far.

He said the policy compensation mechanism set up by the Ministry of Economy and Finance would provide compensation according to the type and size of the land.

Roadside residential land costs $8 per square metre, and the cost is $5 per square metre for land 100m away from the road and $3 per square metre for farmland by the lake.

Sokmean said setting the price of their land at $8 for residential land adjacent to roads and $5 for farmland was too low and not in line with the current market price which he said was currently between $75 and $150 per square metre.

“We all have systematic land titles, so it should not be set at such a low fixed price.

“We want a compromise with a proper compensation solution for our land at the market price so that we can afford to buy land or houses near the new airport, because we do not want to leave,” he said.

Mey Sarith, a representative of the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC) which oversees the airport construction project, declined to comment on May 18.

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