Hundreds of families affected by a land dispute with the Ministry of Defense in Kandal province, are still waiting for compensation and a resolution six weeks after violence broke out.
Villagers from seven villages in Tuol Pich commune, Ang Snuol district, have been locked in a conflict with the Ministry of Defense over 280 hectares of land since late 2020 when soldiers began banning people from farming the land.
In early June, more than 300 families erupted in protest after soldiers used bulldozers to clear the land. In response, soldiers shot at the group, injuring one man.
After the protest, local authorities measured the land, pledging to offer compensation and issuing documents recognizing villagers’ claim to the land.
But villagers have yet to receive any compensation and are still banned from farming the land.
Yan Sokhem, from Ang Taseth village, said they have received no update on the situation.
“We have already discussed going to the commune hall to ask for this information, because authorities should step up the settlement,” she said. “At least they should inform the people of a certain time when the compensation will be made.”
Sokhem said that when she gets the compensation, she will take the money to buy land elsewhere for farming.
“People depend on farming, but now we cannot farm while still waiting for compensation. Now because of COVID-19 my family finds it difficult to earn money and also needs to pay back the loan,” she said.
Pann Phan, deputy Ang Taseth village chief, said that there are 70 families in his village alone who are waiting for promised compensation.
“Villagers kept coming to ask me [for updates] but I also don’t know,” he said. “I went to ask the commune authorities, but they told me that they also had not received any information from the upper level yet.”
He said that if a solution takes a long time, authorities should allow people to temporarily farm on the land.
“They don’t allow people to farm on the land, but they also have not yet offered any solution for the people and now people can’t do anything,” he said. “We call on the authorities to rush to address the issue.”
Located along National Road 51, the disputed site is made up of hundreds of hectares of rice fields, bamboo forests and acacia trees. At the end of last year, soldiers set up camp and announced that villages would no longer be able to farm the fields.
Provincial authorities have said that the land — previously called “Chamkar Barang”— is state property that has been reserved for landfill and military use. The area has seen an increase in development projects over the past few years, including industrial parks and a special economic zone.
Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn said that an inter-ministerial joint committee responsible for finding a solution has not yet met to discuss the issue. But he promised it would be resolved soon.
“There is no meeting yet, but authorities do not ignore the issue as the committee needs time to discuss and now the issue is under management,” he said. “The compensation will be based on the state’s principle because it is the state property.”
Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho, said that while resolutions may take time, officials should update those affected with clear information so they have confidence in the process.
“When authorities just recognize the people’s occupation [of the land], it is not final a solution, it is just a confirmation by authorities and what is important is how they will offer the solution,” he said. “If they prolong the resolution, the issue will not end. The solution should be appropriate and acceptable to all parties.”