Around 100 veterans’ families in Kampot province clashed with security guards from a private company this week alleging that the company was bulldozing their farmland.
The families, who say they were given the land in Kampot’s Chhouk district by Prime Minister Hun Sen in 1998, scuffled with security guards on March 15, when Nguon World Tristar Entertainment attempted to clear farmland. The land has been in dispute since 2014.
Nguon World Tristar Entertainment, owned by local business tycoon So Nguon, claims to have been given around 9,000 hectares of land as a concession in 2005 by the Agriculture for agricultural purposes.
Kuy Krem, who is a veteran and resident of Trapaing Phlaing commune in Chhouk district, said the land was granted to veterans in 1998 by the prime minister, with each former soldier getting around five hectares each.
He said villagers had not encroached on the company’s land, and that it was the exact opposite – Nguon World Tristar Entertainment was attempting to take their land.
“The company has violated our land; we tried to prevent it but they didn’t listen,” Krem said. “They have cleared the boundary to take our land.”
A 62-year-old resident of the community, who wished to remain anonymous for fear of repercussions, said 100 security guards used excavators to clear their farmland and destroyed some of their mango trees.
She said around 60 residents tried to stop them, but there was a scuffle with the security guards and two villagers were injured.
“Company security guards punched villagers and used sticks to beat them up, which caused two of them to get injured,” she said.
She alleged that the company was taking advantage of the fact that villagers were staying home because of the current COVID-19 outbreak across the country.
Mao Chanmathurith, Kampot’s provincial police chief, said one of the security guards had been arrested for using excessive violence and that the police were processing documents to send the case to court.
“We are investigating other people who have been involved in using violence,” Chanmathurith said.
So Nguon, general director of So Nguon Group, said the land dispute had been solved in 2017, and that of the 288 hectares in dispute, 94 hectares was given to the villagers, 192 to the company and the remaining left for road construction. Villagers told CamboJA that 238 hectares were under dispute.
He claimed that the villagers felt they did not get enough land after they divvied the 94 hectares and were the ones trying to claim the company’s land.
“In fact, they have violated company’s land,” Nguon said, claiming that villagers did not have land titles or certificates to prove their ownership over the contested land.
His company had received around 9,000 hectares of land, he said, but was left with 6,300 hectares after the government adopted the leopard skin policy – which stipulates that concessions be developed around smallholders.
He was now planning to use over 900 hectares of land to plant bananas for export to China.
Provincial Governor Cheav Tay said the provincial administration had ordered So Nguon’s company to temporarily halt the clearing and to resolve the dispute with the community.
“We ordered the company to stop clearing land at the disputed site,” he said
The governor was unaware if the dispute had been resolved, as claimed by So Nguon, because he was new to the position.
Tay only confirmed that the concession was granted to the So Nguon Group in 2005 but the company had not developed any “big projects” so far.
Yun Phally, the Kampot provincial coordinator at rights group ADHOC, said the company should follow the government’s policy and exclude land that has been used by villagers for many years.