Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Soldiers block Kandal villagers from disputed land after they reject compensation

Villagers blocked road after soldiers shot and injured a man in a land dispute in Kandal province, June 3, 2021. Licadho
Villagers blocked road after soldiers shot and injured a man in a land dispute in Kandal province, June 3, 2021. Licadho

A land dispute in Kandal province that turned violent last year remains at an impasse after dozens of families rejected compensation from the Defense Ministry, and soldiers camped out at the disputed site to prevent them from entering.

In June, a man was shot and injured after soldiers opened fire on protesters at the site in Ang Snoul district. Since then, the government has paid some families $0.40 per square meter for their farmland, but at least 70 families have refused the compensation, saying it’s too low.

“The village chief told us multiple times to go and get the compensation at the district hall, but we rejected the small amount of money,” said Yan Sokhem, from Ang Taseth village.

 “Now soldiers won’t allow people to enter the site even just to collect wood,” Sokhem said, adding that If she agreed to accept the compensation, she would only receive about $1,000 for her 0.40  hectares of farmland.

Villagers from seven villages in Tuol Pich commune have been locked in a conflict with the Ministry of Defense over 280 hectares of land  — part of which is owned by the state and used as a dump site and military base  — since late 2020. The families say they have farmed the land since the end of the Khmer Rouge regime in 1979.

Deputy Ang Taseth village chief Pann Phan said that after more than 70 families refused the compensation, “the soldiers dug ditches around the land so the villagers could no longer enter the site.”

Pin Seun, another Ang Taseth villager who refused the payout, said that authorities were pressuring people to take the money, and they were too scared to stage renewed protests because of the violent crackdown last year on demonstrators.

“Dozens of soldiers remain camped out around the site to prevent villagers from entering,” he said. “No-one dares to protest anymore because people fear arrest and imprisonment.”

However, Kandal provincial Governor Kong Sophorn told CamboJA that he believed the land dispute had been resolved.

“There’s a solution. Citizens can accept the compensation provided by the authorities, the authorities have resolved the issue for the people,” he said.

Sophorn previously said that the government’s offer was already more than what the villagers’ crops are worth.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho said so far there has been no justice for the victim of last year’s shooting..

“So far those behind the shooting haven’t been made to face the law,” he said.

Over the past two years, hundreds of families in Kandal province, including people affected by the mega airport project in Kandal Stung district, have seen farmland they have cultivated for years and sometimes decades confiscated by the state as part of large-scale development projects.

In some instances, villagers are paid for their land or crops, but often at a price far lower than market rate. In others, villagers are made to move without compensation, with authorities claiming they have been illegally squatting on the land. (Additional reporting by Seoung Nimol)