Farmers Resist Lowly Land Compensation Offer

At least 120 farmers in Svay Rieng province are holding out after refusing to give up the rights to their land for 900 riel per square meter from the authorities.Photo from Yos Sophorn

Protesters say 900 riel per square meter not enough

PHNOM PENH--At least 120 farmers in Svay Rieng province are holding out after refusing to give up the rights to their land for 900 riel per square meter from the authorities.

The farmers are asking for 12,000 riel ($3) per square meter to resolve the issue and have pleaded with Prime Minister Hun Sen.

"Please, Samdech help to consider that price for land for two coins, 4 cents [900 riel],” they said. “Is it a reasonable price? Where does the word fair compensation come in? If there is development, there must be reasonable compensation.

"Please Samdech Hun Sen help by intervening with local officials on land issues in Chek village.”

These messages are on the banners of representatives of 120 farming families protesting on their rice fields against the authorities' actions.

Yuos Sophoan, a representative of the farmers said the dispute was with the Ministry of Water Resources, which had taken their land to build a reservoir called the Vaiko Tonle II. The ministry promised to negotiate with the farmers over compensation.

The compensation offered was inappropriate but some families were forced to accept it, Sophoan said.

"Authorities came and asked the people to give a thumbprint for compensation of 900 riels per square meter,” she said.

 "Farmers  refused to accept compensation at that price, so they protested."

About 100 hectares of land on which the ministry plans to build a reservoir is involved. Disputes over the land have been going on between both sides since 2008.

Kim Savuth, Svay Rieng provincial department director, and ministry spokesman Chan Yutha could not be reached at press time.

A Svay Chrum district official who asked not to be named said that so far, the authorities had not found any solution for the farmers other than the 900 riel per square meter offer.

"The district authorities have asked the farmers to submit a letter to the provincial authorities to resolve the legal process," he said.

Hem Sarith District governor said that more than 90 percent of farmers have agreed to receive compensation of 900 riel per square meter.

This compensation is out of sympathy by the government because the land the farmers have cultivated is usufruct, which means the farmers have the right to use it but do not own it.

"Some farmers refused to give a thumbs up on accepting the compensation and are demanding 12,000 riel per square meter,” he said.

“We cannot comply with their demands while more than 95 percent of farmers have already accepted 900 riel per square meter."

The Governor of Svay Rieng province, Men Vibol, couldn't be reached by the press time.

The coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community (CCFC) president Theng Savoeun said that the farmlands are usufruct land but people living in this area have been occupying those lands for many generations.

If the government has to use the people's land for development, the state has to deal with the land value appropriate for the people.

"Most of the protesting farmers have only land for farming for their livelihood so If the state gives farmers only 900 riel per square meter, can farmers use that money to buy the same area of land to farm? he said.

He said government development should benefit and promote farmers, and the state must try its best to find a middle ground for the farmers and the authorities.

Additional reporting by Phoung Vantha

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