Saturday, January 17, 2009

Land dispute intensifies in Siem Reap

17 Jan 2009
By Pen Bona
Cambodge Soir Hebdo

Translated from Khmer by Luc Sâr

Click here to read the article in French

About one hundred farmers from Chikreng commune, Chikreng district, Siem Reap province, burnt tires in front of the provincial court on Friday 16 January, in order to demonstrate their anger.

The farmers were camping in front of the court for the last three days, to demand for the release of a journalist and two villagers who were arrested on 26 December stemming from a land dispute case opposing two groups of farmers.

The dispute started in 2004 and it involves more than 400 hectares of land straddling two communes: Chikreng and Anlung Samnor. Each commune claims the ownership of the land.
In a letter sent to Heng Samrin, the president of the National Assembly, on 16 January, Sou Phirin, Siem Reap provincial governor, sided with the Anlung Samnor commune villagers, saying that the land belonged to the latter. Chikreng commune villagers then exploded into a demonstration. Sou Phirin added in his letter: “Violence took place last December between the two opposing groups, and it led to the arrest of three people.” However, according to the angry Chikreng villagers, this decision by the governor was not fair and it was motivated by private interests. In fact, according to the Chikreng villagers, the land would belong to a high-ranking official in the region, this explained the reason for Sou Phirin’s decision.

On Friday, in spite of the incidents, no violence took place. However, the demonstrators threatened to continue their action until the three arrested men are freed. This situation worries human rights observers. It should be noted that more often nowadays, during land conflict cases, angry villagers tend to gather up in front of the court. This tendency reflects among many villagers their loss of confidence in the judicial system. Chan Saveth, an investigator for the Adhoc human rights group, indicated on Saturday 17 January that, if the number of land disputes seems to be stable, “the nature of the dispute has worsened. In 2008, we noted more than 300 land dispute cases, the majority of which involved army soldiers. We also noted that more often, arrests were made in land dispute cases,” he deplored.


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