AUTHORITIES in Kandal province’s Kandal Stung district announced during a meeting with villagers Monday that Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet had ruled that around 200 hectares of contested land in Prek Sleng commune belongs to the Heng Development Company, and that local residents have no legal claims to it, villagers said.
A letter from the cabinet, which also stated that the villagers had no right to protest the decision, was quickly denounced by the 18 village representatives present at the meeting as illegitimate.
Oeung Chanry, one of the representatives who attended, said the only explanation for the authorities’ announcement was that the letter was “fake”. “I cannot believe Prime Minister Hun Sen would do this,” she said.
Villagers say they have been farming the land since 1986, but officials claim the Heng Development Company purchased it in 1996 for commercial rice cultivation.
Oeung Chanry said that during the meeting, village representatives demanded that the company produce land titles to prove that they owned the land. “Who sold the land to them?” she said.
Mathieu Pellerin, a consultant for the rights group Licadho, said Sunday that the company had never provided proof that it possessed the appropriate land titles. “As far as we are concerned, we were never shown these documents,” he said.
However, Lim Leang Se, deputy chief of the premier’s cabinet, said, “Prime Minister Hun Sen has recognised that Heng Development Company is the owner of that land because they have the land title, and another part is for a fishing area.”
Ouch Leng, land programme officer for the rights group Adhoc, said the authorities should find a mutually acceptable resolution to the dispute. “If the authorities do not find a clear resolution, violence will occur,” he said.
ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY WILL BAXTER