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Demarcation Posts Leave Siem Reap Residents Fearful of Losing Farmland

Villagers protest outside Peak Sneng commune hall in Siem Reap province on October 20, 2022. AhMon Sara/Facebook
Villagers protest outside Peak Sneng commune hall in Siem Reap province on October 20, 2022. AhMon Sara/Facebook

Some 200 families in Siem Reap province’s Peak Sneng commune fear they will lose their rice crops to a resettlement site for people evicted from Angkor Archaeological Park after authorities last week left demarcation posts through their farmland.

Villagers protested outside the Peak Sneng commune hall in Angkor Thom district on Thursday, seeking an explanation from authorities about the red posts planted through their rice paddy, Peak Sneng resident Keo Sopheak said on Friday.

But officials provided them with no specific answers.

“We are wondering why they have demarcated the posts around our farmland,” said Sopheak, 36.

In 2003, she received a soft title for 3 hectares of farmland from her parents, after they had occupied the land since the 1980s, the resident said.

Now, Sopheak said she is worried “about losing our land because they have demarcated with posts without sharing information.”

Another Peak Sneng villager, Van Pout, 44, shared similar concerns about losing more than 3 hectares of rice paddy following the recent appearance of the demarcation posts.

“We are so worried that we can’t sleep well,” Pout said. 

Regarding Thursday’s protest, she said the commune chief, Sok Sea, told residents he didn’t know whether authorities would repurpose villagers’ farmland as a resettlement site. Sea could not be reached for comment.

During a visit to Siem Reap on Friday, Prime Minister Hun Sen said authorities have facilitated land resolutions for Peak Sneng villagers cultivating rice paddy.

He ordered the Banteay Srei district office to be moved inside a resettlement site in the district’s Run Ta Ek commune, and Angkor Thom district office to be moved to the Peak Sneng area.

The prime minister applauded families who had voluntarily agreed to move to the resettlement site in Run Ta Ek.

Since August 25, approximately 9,134 families who had been living inside Angkor Archaeological Park were selected by lottery to move to Run Ta Ek, Land Management Minister Chea Sophara said in a Facebook post on Friday.

Hun Sen also said the government would not evict people living in Banteay Srei’s Preah Dak commune, but future home construction needed to follow instructions from the Apsara Authority, which oversees the temple complex, and an expanding family would not be allowed to build a new house there.

“Preah Dak is an old area that cannot accommodate new households, so they can move to Peak Sneng commune,” the premier said. 

“For example, a person who has split a [new] family cannot build a new house here, so they can go to take land at Peak Sneng,” he added.

Long Rathareak, Angkor Thom district governor, said a provincial working group has not yet counted the number of Peak Sneng families whose farmland was demarcated.

“They have just put in the posts, and villagers can submit a complaint to the commune office, which the working group will view to resolve the issue,” he said.

“We don’t yet know [what the demarcated land will be used for]. I have just cooperated with [the provincial working group],” Rathareak said, declining further comment.

​​ Sar Vannara, a provincial coordinator for human rights organization Licadho, said residents of Peak Sneng protested on Thursday because they were concerned about the poles installed on their farmland and fearful that their land could be cleared.

Some 1,000 hectares of land occupied by 250 households had been demarcated, Vannara said.

“We went there to see if their farmland was being cleared or if there was violence, but I dare not draw any conclusions about what the poles mean,” he said. (Additional reporting by Sovann Sreypich)