Oddar Meanchey residents fight land concessions

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Oddar Meanchey provincial authorities stopped residents from cultivating areas in more than 7,000ha of land in four communes in Samrong and Chongkal district, Oddar Meanchey province as the land will be reforested by a private company. Agriculture Ministry

Oddar Meanchey provincial authorities stopped residents from cultivating areas in more than 7,000ha of land in four communes in Samrong and Chongkal district, Oddar Meanchey province as the land will be reforested by a private company.

Provincial Department of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries director Soth Sisokhean said the land, located in the communes Pongro and Chongkal in Chongkal district and the communes of Samrong and Konkriel in Samrong district, will be reforested in partnership with San Heang Company according to government guidelines.

But he said some residents have been misinformed by individuals about land ownership, and now depend on the land for their livelihoods. Authorities have recently notified them to stop using the land.

“If residents really have no land, they can make a request to local authorities for social land concessions. But we have never allowed residents to take state land. We put up a banner notifying them about the state of the land. But certain individuals make matters complicated and disseminate contradictory information,” he said.

Provincial deputy governor Vat Paranin accused the people of taking land that the company used for planting trees.

He said the location was not granted to them by authorities.

“Some residents have seen that the land looks fertile, so they plant rice and farm there, but they actually encroached on land. We told them to return to the land granted to them, while the state land they encroached on is kept for re-planting trees by [San Heang] company,” he said.

But Kunth Samrith, the head of the Tuol Pongro community said that the land had been granted to a company to grow sugar under the Economic Land Concession. After the sugar company withdrew, San Heang Company started to clear land around the reforestation areas, but this had affected 90 families.

“They have yet to find a solution. So, this new company has added a new problem to an existing one,” he said.

Samrith added that authorities have addressed the problem for only some residents through land swaps. But people who accepted the offer still returned to the first location after they discovered the new land overlapped other property.

Oddar Meanchey provincial Adhoc coordinator Srey Naren said that about 90 families had not received land from the authority. So, they had temporarily relied on the land for their livelihoods.