Provincial Governor Declares End to 10-Year Land Dispute

The governor of Oddar Meanchey province on Monday declared an end to a 10-year-old land dispute between the military and more than 100 families after offering about a third of them new plots of land, though the families say they had no choice.

“I went to solve the issue and ended the dispute. I invited the military’s Region 4 and the villagers to meet,” the governor, Sar Thavy, said.

According to a resident, 107 families living in Trapaing Prasat district have been fighting with the Royal Cambodian Armed Forces’ (RCAF) Region 4 over 445 hectares of land since military police began occupying the site in 2007.

“This land in 2007 was provided by the government to RCAF’s Region 4,” said Mr. Thavy, who visited the contested site over the weekend.

“The region also used that area as military grounds for training to strengthen national defense.”

The governor said only 35 families had legitimate claims to the land in question, and that the provincial government would give each of them a 2-hectare plot nearby.

He said the other 72 families were recent arrivals living there illegally and that they had been advised to apply to the government for social land concessions.

“We chose a win-win policy,” he said. “The military, villagers and authorities will not lose. We all win together.”

Chim Chuon, a representative of the residents, however, said the 35 families accepted the new plots, and the promise of future land titles, only because they were told they would get no other offer.

“We were forced to accept because if we disagreed the provincial authorities said they would not solve our issues anymore,” he said.

Mr. Chuon said many of the other families had been living on the land for at least 15 years and should also be offered new plots.

Srey Naren, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said most of the villagers had been living on the land before the military took control.

Region 4 chief of staff Pov Heng said he was not aware of the governor’s decision and declined to comment.

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