More than 20 families in Koh Kong province, where authorities have been razing villagers’ farmland, are asking officials to formalize their ownership as they fear the land clearings will continue.
An official, however, said the state land that was cleared was being reserved for families affected by a longstanding dispute with the Union Development Group, which is developing a massive tourism project along the province’s coast.
Local authorities started clearing crops, fruit trees, and a few homes used by villagers in Chamlong Kor village in Thma Sar commune last week because it allegedly encroached on the Botum Sakor National Park.
Saing Sophal, 46, said he was a representative for 29 families in the same village who had not been affected by the clearings, but wanted the authorities to give them land titles for land they were using to live on and grow crops. He said the group had used the land since 2004 or 2006.
“We went to ask the authorities to demand that the authorities cut the land and issue us land titles so we can easily rely on it,” Sophal said. “We keep worrying every day, and if they cut down the [fruit trees] we will lose more money.”
“If they confiscate the land, we will have livelihood problems because we do not have much to grow crops.”
Another resident, Moeuk Sareth, said the families had between 2 and 5 hectares of land in the village and grew cashew, jackfruit, banana and mango trees.
“We are also worried because we heard the district governor say that our land will be kept in exchange for other people. What if the land is given to other people?” Sareth said.
“That’s why we asked them to help cut the land for the 29 families to use as normal because we have been using it for many years and our crops are fully grown.”
Botum Sakor district governor Hak Leng said the land that villagers wanted titles for was reserved land that would be used to house people affected by the Union Development Group project in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts.
“The land that you asked to be cut from the state’s reserved land … in Chamlong Kor village, Thma Sar commune, is the state’s reserved land managed by the provincial state land committee and is kept for exchange,” Leng said.
Koh Kong provincial deputy governor Sok Sothy could not be reached for comment on Thursday.
Hour In, a provincial coordinator for rights group Licadho in Koh Kong, said officials should consider formalizing the land used by Chamlong Kor villagers because they have lived there for many years and have established crops.
“At the same time, we also propose for the benefit of the people and to help improve the livelihoods of the people, the land in the protected areas which people rely on and actually occupy with big plants should be given to them the same as giving [land] to a company,” he said.