Desperate Villagers Resort to Suicide After Losing Land
March 5, 2015, 8:52 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

Desperate Villagers Resort to Suicide After Losing Land

 Every evening for more than 20 years, Em Sophal had joyfully gathered with his wife and eight children for dinner despite being exhausted after a day of hard work on his rice field.

However, this happy dinner gathering came to an end a few years ago when Sophal was no longer around to join his family.

After a long, desperate fight to get back his land taken by rich businessmen, Sophal’s 51-year-old wife, Soun Hoeun, says her husband thought he was not worth living without the rice field that he had farmed on for four years. She said Sophal decided to hang himself.

In 2006, three businessmen who included Sang Than, Thun Bunthoeun and Pen Keh took over the farmland belonging to Sophal’s family and more than 300 other villagers in Banteay Meanchey Province’s Malay District and Battambang Province’s Bovel District, by using some “land ownership” documents prepared by former Khmer Rouge soldiers.

Also in the same year, the Governor of Banteay Meanchey decided to confiscate 150 hectares of forest land from the three businessmen, accusing them of illegally occupying state-owned land. Meanwhile, the Governor of Battambang Province also confiscated 612 hectares of forest land from these businessmen, accusing them of having “illegal” land ownership documents.

After their illegally owned land had been confiscated, Soun Hoeun says the three businessmen took over her rice field and other villagers’ land, claiming they had bought it from a former Khmer Rouge soldier. She recalls armed soldiers were hired to prevent people from farming on their land.

Since then, Sophal and his fellow villagers had lived in despair as they have had no more land for farming. Overwhelmed with this injustice and anguish, Soun Hoeun says Sophal decided to end his life.

In 2002, Suon Hoeun says her husband had cleared three hectares of land for farming in Prasath Tang Village, Malay District’s Takong Commune.

“Thought my husband was sick, he had tried to clear the land for farming,” recalls Suon Heoun. “So, he was so disappointed to lose the land that he decided to hang himself.”

Before going for dinner one evening, Suon Heoun says Sophal told her that the soldiers protecting Sang Than’s land had pointed a gun at his forehead and threatened to kill him if he continued farming on his land.

“He told me ‘Stop taking our children to farm on our land lest they kill us,’” she says.

Suon Hoeun says her husband had fallen very sick after the loss of his land and finally decided to hang himself in the house.

Yet, Em Sophal is not the only villager in Banteay Meanchey Province who had ended his life over the fight for his land. Heang Hean, Sophal’s neighbor and a father of nine children, also decided to take his own life the same way for the loss of his land.

Heang Hean’s 52-year-old widow, Pong Chek, says her husband and children had cleared more than one hectare of forest land. However, she says it was taken over by the three businessmen.

After losing the land, Pong Chek says her husband decided to go to Thailand to look for work to feed the family.

“I told him ‘My dear, please do not go to work in Thailand,’” she says. “But he said ‘If I don’t go to work in Thailand, we will not have money to feed our children.’”

Pong Chek says her husband then left home. However, she says in the evening she realized that her husband had gone to his home village in Malay district and committed suicide there.

“I regret the loss of my husband so much,” Pong Chek laments. “When he was still alive, he had never allowed me do hard work. But, now I have to work alone to feed my children.”

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