Twenty-one families involved in a years-long land dispute in Kratie province’s Chhlong district, say they are struggling to make ends meet after losing their farmland and have received no compensation from the government.
The families from Proma village, Kampong Damrei commune, had their land seized in 2014 and it was then given to a group of people known as the 998 community under a social land concession.
Chhim Sophat, a 62-year-old widow with two children who has lived in the village since 2000, said she used to be a farmer who grew crops like cassava and rice but now she works as a laborer to earn a living after losing her farmland.
“It’s really affected my family’s life and we’re getting deeper and deeper into debt. Land is life. Losing the land is like losing everything,” she said.
“When I had land, I did not owe anyone; I had a decent life. But since I lost the land, I started borrowing money to pay for my trips to file petitions seeking a solution,” she explained.
Sophat says she has filed petitions with local authorities at the district and provincial levels, all the way up to the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Land Management, after the government took possession of about 6 hectares of her land and gave it to members of the 998 community.
But she says she has just been given the runaround for years.
“We submitted petitions to the district and provincial governments, the Ministry of Land Management, and the Ministry of Interior at the end of 2014. But when I went to follow up on the petition, they (the ministries) told us to go back to deal with the provincial authorities, who in turn told us to go to the district officials,” she said.
“The district hall told us to apply for a social land concession and we did. However, we have yet to receive a response.”
Sophat told CamboJA that, unable to afford living costs, she has applied for a Poor ID to receive social security three times but has been rejected by commune authorities, who accuse her of being an opposition supporter.
“I am not an opposition party supporter. I only demand the land because I lost my land. I do not go against the government,” she stated.
Tho Oeun, 45, another resident of Proma village who lost about six hectares of land, said he had had a similar experience.
“I am so poor and I have nothing left,” he said. “They offered the land to the 998 community, and they did not solve the problem for me, even though I submitted a petition to the Ministry of Land Management.”
He told CamboJA that he had been banned from plowing the land by the authorities and has since been working as a laborer.
“My children are not fully educated. We have no money and no means to send our children to school,” he said.
Phay Sarith, chief of Kampong Damrei commune, told CamboJA that he had no information on the case.
“[I] have not received any definite information yet. I have just been in the office for a month and the problem has been there since the old commune chief. So, I have not received all the information,” he said.
Kao Madilen, director of the Department of Land Management in Kratie Province, said that there were lots of problems related to land concessions and land grabbing in the area. However, he said, the department had helped one group, the 998 community, by giving them a concession. If another group had issues, he encouraged them to bring their complaints to the department.
“If they have problems, please come to the land department, because we already solved things for the 998 community,” he said.
Thim Horn, provincial coordinator for rights group ADHOC, said that previously the authorities had asked people in Proma village to apply for social land concessions, but hadn’t done anything about it when people did apply.
“The delay in resolving all these issues has severely affected the people, as people have lost all their land and have migrated to find jobs,” he said.