Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Villagers lock in land dispute with Defense Ministry refuse compensation

Soldiers set up a tent along with a number of excavators and bulldozers in a disputed land site in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, June 4, 2021.CamboJA/ Pring Samrang
Soldiers set up a tent along with a number of excavators and bulldozers in a disputed land site in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district, June 4, 2021.CamboJA/ Pring Samrang

Villagers who have been affected by a land dispute with the Ministry of National Defense in Kandal province’s Ang Snuol district have rejected a compensation offer by the government and vowed to continue their protest.

Authorities on Thursday met with residents of three affected villages and offered them 0.4 cents per square meters in compensation, which was turned down by all.

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.​

During a protest in June, soldiers opened fire on a group of villagers, injuring one person.

Yan Sokhem, from Ang Taseth village, told CamboJA that about 30 families from his village met with authorities on Thursday afternoon. 

Sokhem said that they called people to meet in the forest, where the soldiers are currently camping.

“They did not let us speak and told people that if we did not take it this time, the people would go with nothing because this is state land,” she said, angrily. “I am very disappointed they gave us just 0.4 cents [per square meter] and people stopped listening and left. We will continue to protest and let the soldiers shoot us.”

Another villager from Koul village, Nem Phan, who has half a hectare of land said that he refuses to accept the compensation

They told us that if we did not accept it, it would be over. We have been told that the offer is not for the land price, but is just a fee for the people’s occupation and the cost of crops. We can’t get it because most people have just a little land,” he said.

Phan said people may go to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s house seeking intervention as a last option.

“So that Samdech [Hun Sen] can help us find justice and help to solve the request of the people,” he said.

Minh Loun, a villager from Kuol village, who has nearly 2 hectares of land, said her family relies on this land for farming and the state must help the people.

“The state means that the people, if the state does not have people, where does the state come from?” she said. “When I cannot do farming, I have to buy rice and I also owe the bank because I borrowed money to raise pigs, and now all the pigs are dead and now I have to rely on my children to work in a garment factory,” she said.

Pann Phan, deputy Ang Taseth village chief said the authorities said that the compensation is for labor and cultivation costs that people spent to farm on state land, and that they will pay for the last four years, offering $1000 per hectare a year.

“No one in my village accepts the price because this solution is unreasonable. People have been enjoying the land for many years,” he said.

The Ministry of National Defense spokesman and other officials could not be reached for comment.

Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn said he was not aware of the meeting between authorities and people.

“I do not know about this clearly, because this is in the hands of the inter-ministerial committee to solve this problem. The committee is coordinating and the provincial authority is just a member and as far as I know the price is decided by the state, because this land is state land,” he said.

Provincial authorities have said that the land — previously called “Chamkar Barang”— is state property that had been reserved for landfill and military use.

Am Sam Ath, deputy director of monitoring at rights group Licadho, said it is difficult to find a solution for the people and they have occupied the land for a long time.

“ Violence already happened once and we are concerned that it could occur again and lead to arrests,” he said. “We do not want to see this picture, we want to see that development is also for the people, so if the development in that area, the people should be able to get a suitable solution.”

He said that rising land prices are also causing problems, with villagers needing to receive enough compensation to allow them to purchase suitable land elsewhere. “I think that [the government] should find a suitable solution and end the violent land crisis that has already happened once,” he said.