13 December 2010
ABOUT 50 villagers representing 116 families protested in front of the home of Land Management Minister Im Chhun Lim in Kratie province yesterday, asking for intervention in a land dispute that could see them all evicted early next month.
Eang Phalla, a village representative, said residents from Snoul district’s Pi Thnou commune decided to stage the protest when they heard the minister was visiting his Kratie home.
“We are very happy to hear that the minister came home because the due date of eviction is coming,” he said. “Therefore, we come here to ask for help.”
Representatives said residents were issued a letter by provincial authorities on December 6 notifying them that they had one month to move from their homes to make way for the Sovann Vuthy Company, which plans to construct a rubber plantation on the land.
Eang Phalla said the protestors were told by police officers yesterday that the minister was busy and would address them on Monday.
Villagers from Pi Thnou commune have accused Sovann Vuthy Company – which was granted more than 7,000 hectares in land concessions in 2009 – of attempting to forcibly evict them from their homes, in addition to destroying six houses in November.
Representatives from Sovann Vuthy Company could not be reached yesterday.
The villagers have also said that families settled in the commune as early as 1979, and had held legal land titles, which have since been revoked.
However, Kham Phoeun, Kratie provincial governor, said the area doesn’t belong to the villagers and was originally a protected forest area. He said he received the villagers’ complaints and would consider holding a meeting next week to address the issue.
“If we find out that [the villagers] are really poor and don’t have any land, we will consider their case accordingly,” he said. “But if we find that they have just come to protest with support from anyone, we will take legal actions as well.”
Thim Narin, an official with rights group Adhoc, said the villagers “should have received some benefits” from the land concession, especially “if they are really poor”.