Source: Khmer Times / Wednesday, 23 March 2016 by Pav Suy
More than 100 residents from Svay Chrum village in Preah Vihear’s Choam Ksan district continued their second day of protests yesterday, attempting to claim back their land before being stopped again by provincial authorities despite a letter from the Ministry of Interior ordering authorities to negotiate, according to representatives.
According to a joint statement from the national authority of Preah Vihear and Provincial Hall, the land was designated as a conservation area by Royal Decree in 2011.
The decree resulted in 253 families losing more than 1,000 hectares of their land in 2012. And while many are still fighting for their land rights, others have accepted compensation from the authority amounting to two million riel (about $500) in cash and some construction material in order to build homes elsewhere.
Village representative Kin Chantha said: “We tried to move back to the same area [Tuesday] evening, but they stopped us and instead allowed us to stay at Sa Em pagoda for a night. This morning [Wednesday], we continued to do that again, but were stopped again and were threatened with arrest.”
He said the villagers had documents dating back to the 1990s proving the legitimacy of their rights to the land, including a letter from the commune and district cadasters and letters from government officials.
Since the land was designated as a conservation area in 2011, the group has protested to various government bodies. They have been living in the Samaki Rainsy pagoda for about a year and a half in the hope that authorities will intervene.
On January 20, the Ministry of Interior issued a letter to the Land Conflict Resolution Committee and later to the provincial authority seeking a solution to the issue, asking the provincial authorities to resolve the conflict with the villagers.
However, the group said that provincial authorities have remained uncooperative and have been unwilling to meet with village leaders to discuss the issue.
The provincial authority released a statement that said the villagers misinterpreted the substance of the letter, adding that it did not give them permission to return.
“It [the letter] is a procedure of forwarding the case of the Ministry of Interior to the National Authority of Land Dispute and Resolution. It is not the decision of the Ministry of Interior at all. Moreover, this area was protected by the Royal Decree…on the designation as the site of Preah Vihear Temple.”
Phan Phoeun, another village representative, refuted the provincial authority’s claim.
“The people do not misinterpret the content of the letter, but the provincial authority violates the power of the order of the Ministry of Interior to solve the people’s problem. This is why we decided to go back there,” he said.
Lor Chann, a provincial coordinator with Adhoc, said the provincial authorities had not abided by the laws of its national counterpart, exacerbating the issue.
Interior Ministry spokesman Khieu Sopheak and provincial governor Oum Mara could not be reached for comment yesterday.