Landless families in Koh Kong’s impoverished “Community 766” have petitioned the government to provide them with a social land concession where they can live and farm, community representatives said this week.
“We want the authorities to assist us in resolving this issue for the underprivileged.” said Ms. Keat Kimsun, who, along with more than 220 families, submitted a request to Sre Ambel District Hall asking for land and also demanding that district officials speed up the resolution of land disputes and the issuance of land titles.
“I will not vote for you if I do not receive the land,” Ms. Keat, a representative of Community 766 in Ban Tiet village, Dong Peng commune, warned the government, referring to upcoming commune elections in June.
Most people in the community live in extreme poverty, she said, and with numerous children to support many are now in debt and have no land to cultivate as a way of earning a living.
“A family with seven or eight children has no land. It’s tough to farm without land, and we owe the bank. Some parents have sent their children to work in factories, but they’re still unable to support their families,” she said.
She told CamboJA that her community had already filed a petition several times with both the provincial authorities and the Ministry of Land Management but had received no response.
Mr. Kuon Kheang, 32, another representative of the Sre Ambel community, said that the land that the people were petitioning for was not part of a dispute with any company. He noted that while the land used to belong to the Ly Yong Phat company between 2004 and 2017, the government had since taken it back.
As the property is now vacant, people in poor and landless communities are requesting that the government grant them concessions there so that they can earn a living, he explained.
Kheang told CamboJA the families each have about 0.5 hectares of land currently. He said each family is now asking for 3 hectares of land to farm.
With life becoming increasingly difficult, one concern is that people may be forced to migrate, said Thong Chan Dara, the provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Koh Kong Province.
“The government should prepare some land to address the citizens’ challenges, not ignore them,” he added.
Han Tiet, a representative of community 766 in Sre Ambel district’s Dong Peng commune, said that most of the people in the community work in factories or as laborers.
“Land is very expensive and we farmers don’t have money,” he added.
He thinks that the government should provide family members with two hectares of land to farm, which will help to reduce migration and poverty.
But Korng Bouy, chief of Dong Peng village, said that the four to five families in the village had already been granted land several years ago, so the issue has been solved for them. However, he said, they’ve still joined the other more than 220 families petitioning the government.
Ty Young, chief of Dong Peng commune, agreed that the government had already distributed land to some families, but now the children of those families were demanding more.
“The government addressed a series of land requests from residents. But now all the family members over the age of 18 have applied for social land concessions too. Some families have five members.”
Theng Savoeun, president of the Coalition of Cambodia Farmer Community Association (CCFC) said the community had followed the right process in petitioning local authorities.
“The petitions for their social land concessions follow the prescribed legal procedures, especially in land law,” said Mr. Savoeun.
“Therefore, the district authorities should consult with the people about providing social land concessions to poor farmers in Sre Ambel district.”
Mr. Savoeun added that if the authorities don’t address people’s demands they may suffer losses in the commune elections.
“People will lose faith in government and public services, and they will vote for commune chiefs from any political party that can help them address their concerns,” he said.
Koh Kong Provincial Administrative Director Sek Sam Oul referred questions to the deputy governor, while Koh Kong Deputy Governor Sok Sothy declined to comment on the issue when contacted by CamboJA.
The spokesman of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning, and Construction could not be reached.