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Plan for airport faces resistance

Talks between officials in Preah Vihear province and local villagers whose land is in the way of a proposed domestic airport hit some turbulence on Tuesday, as homeowners bristled over the various forms of compensation being offered.

Local authorities in Preah Vihear started measuring the land of families living on the defunct air field in Preah Vihear town’s Palhal commune in September. The purpose of the meeting on Tuesday, attended by officials from the provincial government and the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA), which owns the land, was to come to an agreement amenable to both parties, the town said in a statement.

Oum Mara, the Preah Vihear provincial governor, said that the government presented two options: a social land concession for the affected families, or compensation for their homes. He said that the provincial authorities will come to measure more land next week.

“We suggest them to wait for [us to] measure clearly,” he explained.

As tourism continues to grow, Cambodian aviation officials have been looking at redeveloping old airports all over the country, but little information has been released about the efforts. Soy Sokhan, undersecretary of state at the SSCA, said that he cannot disclose details of the airport’s construction.

“I cannot tell what time exactly, because the big problem is that the solution to the land dispute with the villagers is not finished”, he said.

Sok Pov, 38, said the proposed area is too far away, some 20 kilometres. It’s also underdeveloped, he added, with no infrastructure to speak of. And the compensation of $1 per 1 square metre isn’t enough for him and others to rebuild.

“How can we take that money to buy new land for living? And the new village is in a wild area; nothing’s there.”

Lor Chan, a coordinator for rights group Adhoc in Preah Vihear, said the authorities should be more transparent about the project. Chan also fears that the government will, some time in the future, abandon the airport idea and simply “give those lands to any company”.

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