Dozens of farmers from Battambang province descended on Phnom Penh on Tuesday to fight for land they say they have farmed for decades, even though a court ruled it should be handed over to soldiers.
Despite the farmers’ protestations that they have been farming rice, cassava and beans on a 152-hectare tract in Bavel district’s Khlaing Meas commune for more than two decades, the provincial court last year ruled that the land should be allocated to soldiers from Banteay Meanchey province.
The farmers said authorities finally ordered them to leave the land on March 10. Fears of fomenting unrest led officials to put the planned eviction on hold.
But with the threat of being ousted from the land still hanging over them, the farmers traveled on Tuesday to Phnom Penh to petition the government to have the land returned.
“We have had crop plantations on that land for many years and we have documents such as land ownership. Why are soldiers occupying our land? It’s an injustice,” said Nget Chantha, a representative for the 59 families who are involved in the dispute.
“The land was offered by the government to disabled former soldiers or poor villagers. We have evidence to prove this,” he said. “We can’t let those soldiers occupy where we make our livelihoods.”
Arriving at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet office at about 8 a.m. from the capital’s Samakki Raingsey pagoda*—which offers shelter to those involved in land disputes—the group was turned away and told to drop their petition at the Land Management Ministry, where it was accepted, Mr. Chantha said.
Ministry officials could not be reached for comment.
Contacted after the petition was delivered, deputy Battambang provincial governor Nguon Rattanak said the land was set aside for soldiers almost 20 years ago.
“Since 1998, the land was offered to soldiers who were then based in Banteay Meanchey province,” Mr. Rattanak said. “We have not yet implemented the verdict because the villagers will start to protest or cause problems.”
A spokesman for the Battambang Provincial Court, which issued the ruling last year, could not be reached on Tuesday for comment.
odom@cambodiadaily.com
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