Villagers fence off disputed land

By: Phak Seangly and Sean Teehan

Maintaining they were wronged in a land dispute with a rubber company in Ratanakkiri province’s Lumphat district, villagers there have erected a fence around about 500 hectares of land they claim belongs to them.

The action came after the Daun Penh Agrico company in Lumphat district’s Chey Uddom commune went back on its word to rights group Adhoc, said provincial Adhoc coordinator Chhay Thy. Daun Penh Agrico last month promised that it would return hundreds of hectares of land it gained through an economic land concession, which villagers had cultivated for generations, he said.

“The company is very greedy with the land and broke its promise to our officer,” Thy said yesterday, adding that in addition to being important farming land, the area serves as a safe haven. “The land is very important to the lives of villagers and their animals, because they use it as a safe place from floods.”

Daun Penh Agrico and Lumphat District Governor Kong Srun could not be reached yesterday.

Deputy District Governor Nou Ther yesterday said his team would “examine the case” today.

To the knowledge of the Ministry of Environment, which approved the land concession, the district and provincial governments are fully aware of the dispute, ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said yesterday. The ministry has not received a request from either side of the argument for assistance, Sopheap said. But upon searching their records yesterday, he said the land is, indeed, registered to Daun Penh Agrico.

“People are still claiming or asking for more land, around 200 hectares,” Sopheap said. “But the problem is that the company in Lumphat . . . has already been registered as the economic land concession [owner].