Less than a year after the government ordered an end to the leasing of land along the country’s borders, five CNRP lawmakers wrote to the interior minister on Tuesday claiming that more than 430 hectares of farmland in Svay Rieng province is being leased to Vietnamese farmers in collusion with local authorities.
In November, amid rising political tensions over Vietnamese border encroachments, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued a directive banning the leasing of land along borders with Thailand, Vietnam and Laos in order “to protect Cambodian soil.”
CNRP activists hold Cambodian flags near the Vietnamese border in Svay Rieng province last year during an opposition-led trip to a disputed border post in Kompong Ro district. (Satoshi Takahashi)However, a letter signed from five CNRP lawmakers to Interior Minister Sar Kheng dated Tuesday claimed that a total of 436 hectares of farmland in Bavet City and Chantra district was being leased to Vietnamese farmers.
“Despite there being a directive, as well as the announcement made by Samdech Prime Minister, banning the leasing of Cambodian soil to Vietnamese citizens for farming, activities of leasing farmland to Vietnamese people along [the] Cambodia-Vietnam border in Svay Rieng province still continues,” the letter states.
The lawmakers claimed the practice was continuing due to Cambodians acting as proxies for Vietnamese nationals seeking land, and said local authorities were knowingly allowing it to happen. The lawmakers requested that Mr. Kheng take action to “protect Cambodia’s territorial integrity.”
Kong Saphea, who signed the letter, said the five lawmakers conducted a field investigation with local CNRP officials on Saturday after receiving complaints from locals.
“After the field investigation, we found that local authorities have covered up the information in leasing Cambodia’s farmland to Vietnamese people,” Mr. Saphea said.
Ouk Saroeun, a CNRP councilor in Chantrea district, said the land leased to Vietnamese farmers came up to 1.5 km inside Cambodian territory and stretched about 6 km along the border.
“There is collusion between the district governor, the landowners and Vietnamese people because they…cover up the case by installing a Cambodian’s name as the renter to lease the land,” he said.
Chantrea district governor Nguon Ram could not be reached for comment.
Deputy provincial governor Pich Sovann, who said he visited the areas where the CNRP claimed that land was being encroached upon, denied the accusations.
“The fact is that the two locations used to be farmland leased to the people of Vietnam but it ended since the government issued the ban,” Mr. Sovann said.
“When I was at Chantrea commune, there were only three Cambodian families farming on about 10 hectares of land, and the rest is just empty field,” he said.
“It’s not true that 200 hectares of farmland [in the commune] have been leased to the people of Vietnam recently,” he said, adding that he still planned to make another trip to the land today.
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