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Villagers protest over a 99-year land grant

Villagers protest over a 99-year land grant

Representatives of families in Banteay Meanchey province’s Thma Puok district and Oddar Meanchey province’s Banteay Ampil district met separately with provincial authorities yesterday after villagers protested against local development firm Cheat Amphiwat Co Ltd on Monday for its plan to create a 6,000-hectare plantation across both districts.

Soeun Kosal, 29, from Banteay Chhmar commune in Thma Puok district, said yesterday that representatives of almost 300 families in six villages had attended the meeting in Banteay Meanchey following the protest.

“The authorities said that the company takes only eroded land,” he said.

“We were told not to be worried, but we are worried. We have lived here for a long time. They don’t discuss [the development] with us.”

Koeun Rath, 35, from Banteay Ampil district’s Ampil commune, said yesterday that representatives from around 100 families had attended the meeting in Oddar Meanchey, and that the development would affect 400 families in three local villages.

“The district authorities said the company develops land for us to be prosperous, but how can that be when we lose land?” he said, adding that villagers had confiscated a bulldozer belonging to the company on Monday.

Srey Naren, Oddar Meanchey provincial coordinator for local rights group Adhoc, said a government directive signed in 2009 by Prak Sokhon, a senior minister at the Council of Ministers, granted Cheat Aphiwat “principle” permission for a 99-year lease of 6,000 hectares of land that spans the boundary between Banteay Meanchey and Oddar Meanchey provinces.

“We don’t know if the company has a sub-decree receiving land from the government, but before developing it, the firm must consult … with villagers,” Srey Naren said, adding that the government had asked the company to work with the Environment Ministry.

Banteay Ampil district governor Chap Phat said yesterday that officials had asked villagers not to use violence or confiscate the company’s machinery.

“We wanted to tell them that this company has permission from the government, so please be calm,” he said. “Don’t do something illegally.”

Chap Phat declined to say whether villagers would receive compensation for displacement resulting from the project.

Representatives from Cheat Aphiwat Co Ltd could not be reached for comment.

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