Villagers from three communities in Svay Rieng travelled to Phnom Penh yesterday to seek government intervention in a long-running land dispute.
The group of 200 villagers submitted a petition on the issue to the Council of Ministers and Ministry of Land Management.
The villagers represent 1,735 families from the Chek Meas, Romeas Hek and Angdong Trabek communities in Svay Chrum and Romeas Hek districts.
Villagers at the centre of the row say private firms, land brokers and powerful officials from the provincial authority have been threatening them.
Khiev Sarun, 36, a farmer from the Romeas Hek community, said the disputed land had been used for agricultural purposes by villagers since 1979 without any interruption from authorities, until the government gave the land to a private company in 2010, without informing villagers.
The villagers are unhappy because the government granted NK Venture special permission to build a sugar plantation on 670 hectares, but it has still done nothing with the land.
“Previously, the land was used for farming by villagers, but now the firm owns it,” she said. “They forced us to pull out our crops and threatened us. They tried to stop us from travelling to Phnom Penh, but we walked for 15 kilometres so we could hail a taxi.”
Another villager, Morn Sina, said the group has been forced to seek help from Prime Minister Hun Sen because local authorities have ignored them.
“We want the government to help us as soon as possible, because it is the season for cultivating crops. When we tried planting on the land, the company came and cleared our crops,” she said.
The villagers’ petition asks government to help find a resolution with the parties involved in the dispute, stop threats of legal action from provincial authorities, and provide villagers with land titles.
Seng Savorn, a cabinet official in Mr Hun Sen’s office at the Council of Ministers, received the petition. He said he will present villagers’ complaints to government leaders.
“We will study the legal issues of the case with experts. The government never ignores or avoids finding resolutions for the people,” he told villagers.
Ol Sokyos, deputy director of administration at Ministry of Land Management, also said the ministry will review ways to resolve the row with the help of legal advisors.
“We have to look into the background of the case and the history of the land in dispute,” he said.
Svay Rieng deputy provincial governor Pich Saran denied allegations that the authority had threatened people with legal action.
“This is a long-standing and complicated land dispute so the provincial authority will make a detailed report on the issue to give to the government and the public soon,” he said.
Theng Savoeurn, a coordinator with the Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community, urged the government to return the land to villagers as soon as possible.
He said they needed to cultivate the land in peace to be able to survive.