During 3 days, our team walked through 7 villagers in Sampouv Loun and Phnom Preuk districts and addressed over 1,000 villagers.
The district governor of Sompouv Loun, a man in his 50’s who joined the Khmer Rouge in his early 20’s was not welcome by the villagers when he led local authorities to meet with the villagers the previous week.
When our team arrived the first day, the villagers were agitated as officials from the environment office have started to mark the land with wooden posts and clear 30 hectares of land for the company’s office.
At each village, our team looked through documents issued by the government and informed the people of their content. Villagers had never been informed of land concessions provided to the company. Economic land concessions are kept as secret by the government. All economic concessions are signed by the prime minister.
At each village our team held a public forum on land rights. Hundreds of affected villagers came. Women came with their infants and children, the elderly, and people men disabled by land mines as they cleared the forest.
The farmers spoke with rage, in despair and want immediate cancellation of the economic concessions.
“Our land is our life. We live off our land . We will die on our land” were the words from the villagers.
The soil is fertile, Cambodian villagers farm all year round but the market is controlled by Thai companies.
“The Villagers came first, not the company”
The third day was most significant: 700 villagers had the first meeting with their district governor at his office. Our team led and moderated the 3 hour long meeting.
“Sisters and brothers, this office is your office. The governor is a civil servant. He serves you. You elected me as your representative. I serve you. Please make your requests and speak with no fear“, I took the microphone after the district governor gave his remarks.
The villagers spoke loud and clear:
1/ we cleared the land, not the company;
2/ the land must be divided among the farmers first, the company can reeive the rest of the shared land;
3/ we want to protect the remaining part of the forest;
4/ we want enough land for our children;
5/ we want fair compensation is our land is taken from us for the company;
6/ we will not leave our villagers;
7/ we want roads, schools and clean water;
8/ we want fair price for our crops.
The atmosphere of the meeting was tense when the governor spoke of the government’s plan to divide the land. The villagers protested.
My 3 young colleagues, recently elected at sub-national level played a major role in facilitating the meeting. They demonstrated a strong sense of maturity, analytical and public skills and respect for the principles of democracy.
The villagers had never been received by the governor at his office. Every word at the meeting was recorded and heard.
The villagers travelled more than 2 hours to reach the governor’s office.
Our team moved on to the next district, faced with the same problem.
The Messenger Band
At each meeting we played “Land is Life” a song composed and sung by the Messenger Band, a group of young women factory workers, students and villagers.