‘We Need Land Like Fish Needs Water’
March 5, 2015, 8:44 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

‘We Need Land Like Fish Needs Water’

 Three years ago, travellers to the seaside province of Koh Kong could clearly spot the ubiquitous signs in front of villagers’ houses in Sre Ambel district’s Chikhor Leu commune to protest against a sugarcane plantation company that had unfairly grabbed their land. Today, though these signs are nowhere to be seen, the seemingly solved land disputes have remained unsolved.

In a late morning recently, about a dozen representatives of the villagers involved in the land dispute with the company have gathered inside the compound of a pagoda in Chikhor Leu commune to air their grievances.

The villagers say officials from the Ministry of Agriculture met with opposition lawmakers on May 8, 2013, to discuss the situation of the land disputes between the villagers and the sugarcane plantation company.

“They told them that they had [almost] completely solved the problem and that there were only 13 families left,” says Teng Kor, 53, from Chikhor Leu commune’s Chhouk village. “Actually, there are no solutions for us.”

In fact, Teng Kor says, 200 of 400 affected families still have no land. The father of six says the company has promised to cut and return to the people part of 4,000 hectares of land under the Economic Land Concession. But, he says the company has not kept its promise.

“Victims are still victims,” he laments. “We the people need land like fish needs water.”

Teng Kor says each affected family has lost four to five hectares of land and that the company has offered to pay them about 500,000 riel, or about 125 dollars, each in compensation.

“How would I accept that money?” Yin Chiev, 31, asks in disbelief. “Now, one hectare of land costs at least 1,000 dollars.”

The villagers say they company has told them that it will only pay for their crops that they had planted on the affected land and not for their lost land.

“They said ‘if you accept the money, you can take it. If not, the company still takes the land anyway,’” Chiev complains.

Miv Nam, 58, from Chhouk village, says he has lost five hectares of land with banana trees, rice and cassava which used to provide a main source of livelihood and income for his family.

“Back then, I had enough to eat,” he recalls. “All my kids went to school. Now, I have nothing.” He adds: “If I fall sick, I will have to sell my remaining house to treat myself.”

Miv Nam says the company has offered to pay him only 200,000 riel, or $50, for his land. He says he refused to accept it.

“Now, we want our land back so that we can continue our farming,” he appeals to the government.

The villagers say the company and local authorities have listed names of people from other communes who have not been involved in the land disputes and encouraged them to take the compensation.

“They are just fake names of people who have not been affected,” Miv Nam says.

The villagers’ representatives say those fake victims of land grab did not care and just took the money and went back to their communes.

Worse still, they say the local authorities have tried to use political tricks to avoid solving the problems and sling mud at the affected villagers.

“Now, it’s close to the election and they have turned this into a political issue,” says Teng Kor. “They didn’t solve our problem and accused us of being members of the opposition.”

“When we did not accept the money, they said we were members of the opposition,” he continues.

People say they have lost their trust in the government’s development policy which they accuse of having an adverse effect on the villagers.

“Their development has made us even poorer and poorer,” says Pok Lech, 41, also from Chhouk village. “It’s very unjust for us.”

Pok Lech says before the government granted the Economic Land Concession to the sugarcane plantation company the villagers used to have 20 to 30 cows for each family.

“Now, we don’t even have one cow,” he says. “The government does not see our suffering and they just leave us to die.”

“Now, some people don’t even have land for burying themselves when they die,” Miv Nam adds.

The villagers say they would like to appeal for help from to the international community, especially the European Union, which has bought sugar from the sugarcane plantation company.

“They should stop buying sugar [from the companies involved in land disputes],” says Ly Nao, 25.

“They should come and investigate first before they buy sugar,” responds Prom Khim, 35.

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