Villagers’ Tents Guard Rice Fields on Airport Land in Face of Bulldozers

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Residents set up tents to block bulldozers from clearing rice fields within the new Phnom Penh airport project in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district on May 17, 2021. (Hy Chhay/VOD)

Kandal province villagers have erected tents to stand guard over their rice fields on the site of Phnom Penh’s new airport development, as two bulldozers arrived and began to clear the area.

The clearing began on Friday, when the bulldozers arrived alongside three fire trucks and about 20 police officers and cleared around 1.5 hectares before gathering villagers obstructed the operation, residents said.

Kim Socheat said villagers were taking turns camping at the rice fields in a bid to protect it. They began on Friday and have been standing watch for four days now, he said.

“People sowed the rice fields more than a month ago, and the rice has grown a hand span already. They have already watered and fertilized [it]. And they destroyed their farmland,” Socheat said.

He said he had 4 hectares in the area, in Kandal Stung district’s Boeng Khyang commune. According to Socheat, about 400 hectares of the airport development’s land in four communes is still under dispute.

Dos Saroeun, 67, said 1 hectare of her rice fields was in the project site. The government had offered $3 to $8 per square meter in compensation — $30,000 to $80,000 for a hectare — but she did not consider it enough to buy land elsewhere, Saroeun said.

She said compensation at market value would be $90 to $120 per square meter, which would make her land worth roughly $1 million.

“If samdech pities the people in these four communes, please, samdech, help solve it as soon as possible because the people here are suffering a lot,” she said.

Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophorn said his administration would meet with the Land Management Ministry and other stakeholders to see if the compensation price can be raised.

“I am trying to help the best I can to move this process forward, because some people were understanding and some have compromised already. So we will try to coordinate more in order to make the development of this airport a real development to serve the whole nation,” Sophorn said.

The airport is being developed by a joint venture between the government’s State Secretariat for Civil Aviation and the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation. A sub-decree last year officially granted 2,600 hectares of land to the venture for the airport as well as an “airport city” development near it.

(Translated and edited from the original article on VOD Khmer)

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