Monday, April 26, 2010

Both sides threaten violence in land spat

REPRESENTATIVES of around 400 residents of Kampot, Preah Sihanouk and Kampong Speu provinces said Sunday that villagers are prepared for a standoff today with an NGO they say has made an illegitimate claim to their farmland, and that they will not shy away from violence.

[note: For many communities access to a fair hearing and a deep belief that justice will prevail, no matter how well connected (or disconnected) you may be, is almost non-existant. A look through recent reports of communities resisting land grabs and natural resource alienation will see frustration boiling over into violence. It's understandable, but ultimately an exercise in failure. Those who grab land and natural resources are invariably well connected politically, economically, and with the police, military and the legal system. A few villagers wielding knives is only going to strengthen the resolve of the CDSA and other 'authorities' who see their role as "preserving the peace". The need for communities skilled in nonviolent resistance is at an all-time high or an uncontrollable spillover of anger and violence may occur in the future. Stay tuned for an up-coming article entitled, "Why Cambodia is Ripe for Nonviolence".]

Mou Savoeung, one of the representatives, said hundreds of families have been at loggerheads with the Cambodia Disabled Survivors’ Association over the land since 2000, but that they need to prepare to plant rice because the rainy season is approaching.

“Every year, if we didn’t use violence against the NGO then we wouldn’t be able to farm,” she said. “I am afraid there will be more violence because the NGO will come to ban us.”

Touch Seouly, director of the Kampong Speu-based NGO, said local officials had given it ownership of the 1,654 hectares of disputed land in the three provinces, and that the farmers would not be able to plant rice this year.

“If they use knives, we will use knives back. If they use rocks, we will use rocks back. And if they use guns, we will use guns back,” he said.

[note: the villagers feel justified in using knives because they are defending what they believe is theirs, and they need the land for their agricultural livelihood. The NGO (amazingly!) feels justified in using knives to protect what they believe is rightfully theirs. Apart from the craziness of an NGO planning to use knives on the populace, the logic of revenge makes sense as far as it goes. But it won't solve the underlying issues of resource alienation, lack of access to impartial legal judgements, and a sense of entitlement by the well-connected to the land and natural resources on it without thought of the effects it has on local communities.]

Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said violence had broken out between the farmers and representatives of the NGO on multiple occasions in recent years.

Officials in Kampong Speu province, where most of the land is located, could not be reached for comment on Sunday.


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