The Ministry of Land Management, Urbanization and Construction on Monday is to send a working group to Koh Kong province to collect information on a land disputed in an effort to find a solution for villagers locked in a long-running land dispute, after 300 residents on Thursday gathered in front of the ministry to demand action.
According to a press release issued by the ministry dated May 18, officials in Koh Kong informed the ministry that 486 local families who have been embroiled in land disputes with Koh Kong Sugar Industry and Koh Kong Plantation have requested intervention.
Thy Na, a representative of 316 families in Chi Khor Leu village in Sei Ambil district, said that after the villagers went to protest in Phnom Penh an official from the Ministry of Land Management promised they would send a working group to the areas where disputes have occurred to ascertain the identity of and collect information from the occupants.
“The people welcome the statement by the ministry because in the past the officials had only asked us to go home without finding a solution for us,” Na said. “The ministry told us that it will create a joint committee in Koh Kong, and asked us to go back and work with the provincial authorities. However, we only give them half of our trust since we have not received any compensation yet.”
Soun Vannat, 50, an affected resident, said the dispute has lasted for more than 10 years, and it involved 537 families in nine villages. However, some have already received compensation.
“I want the same compensation as the previous group, where each family received 3 hectares of land and $2,500,” Vannat said, referring to a group of residents who received compensation in March.
Tep Thon, undersecretary of state at the Ministry of Land Management, could not be reached for comment, but in his meeting with protesting residents, he said he had created a joint committee, led by Phouthong Mithona, the provincial governor, and planned to solve the dispute by the end of May, a claim which was confirmed by Mithona.
“We have already created the committee, and on May 21, we are going to collect information, identify the occupants, and measure the lands,” he said. “We will also look for those who do not have land there but pretend to be occupants so that they can receive land and money.”
Om Somarth, from human rights watchdog Licadho, said it is time the Ministry of Land Management to solve all disputes in the areas.
“The people are the victims of a land concession,” he said. “To solve the problems, the ministry must give them proper compensation.”