Cambodian Police Bar Villagers From Land Seized for New Airport

Hundreds of police officers blocked villagers in Cambodia’s Kandal province on Tuesday from visiting rice fields seized to build an airport, while displaced farmers vowed to keep fighting for fair compensation, Cambodian sources said.

The land at Kampong Talong village in Kandal’s Beung Khchang commune was taken three years ago by the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC), a private Cambodian firm, for construction of the $1.5 billion airport project.

Around 330 families living on the disputed land refused compensation for their fields, saying the amounts offered in payment by the firm were too low.

No injuries were reported Tuesday in the confrontation between villagers and police, village representative Khem Maly told RFA’s Khmer Service.

“But they won’t allow us to see the land that they’re encroaching on. They’re robbing us,” she said.

“Authorities are not resolving our issues over the land. They are forcing us to accept the offer of eight dollars per square meter, and are threatening to simply confiscate the land if we don’t accept,” Khem Maly said.

“We won’t stop our protests, though, even if we have nothing in our hands to fight them with.”

“This morning, people were screaming and crying. We are calling for justice. If we don’t protect our rice fields, our homes may be next,” she said.

Villagers stopped cultivating their land three years ago, but had to start farming again because business shutdowns caused by the spread of COVID-19 in Cambodia have left them without other ways to survive, Khem Maly said.

Authorities have already destroyed this year’s crop, though, she said.

Attempts to reach Kandal provincial governor Kong Sophoan for comment were unsuccessful Tuesday, but he had previously told RFA that eight dollars per square meter was a fair price for the disputed land.

A fair price would fall more in the range of from $60 to $80, though, said Van Sophat, land monitoring officer for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR), speaking to RFA.

“The price gap is much too large,” Van Sophat said, adding that OCIC had failed to conduct a proper assessment of their project’s environmental impact or to consult Kampong Talong villagers on the proposed development.

The villagers hold title to their land and deserve justice and fair compensation, he said.

A key source of social tension in Cambodia and other Southeast Asian countries is the widespread practice of land grabs in which authorities seize land from people for development projects or foreign-invested enterprises without paying them fair compensation for lost crops, property, and livelihoods.

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