The Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction has said it will not look to resolve a land dispute involving seven communities in Tbong Khmum province, calling instead for measures against those it considers responsible for inciting protests.
Protesters from Trapaing Pring, Kamproeus, Sre Praing, Boss Snaor, Tuol Sambor, Chambak and Chi Trun communities in Dambe district submitted a petition at the ministry to demand the awarding of 3,718ha of forest land.
The ministry on Monday identified Horn Trip, Pheng Samoeun, Sem Sang, Heang Han, Sreng Sron, Khaing Veng and Sao Teang, who represented 676 families, as those responsible for inciting villagers to protest.
A review of relevant documents by the authorities concluded that the villagers, including village and commune chiefs, agreed in 2011 to sell land in Chi Trun, Boss Chmar and Sre Praing villages to a private company, a ministry statement said.
The land titles had already been transferred to the company.
While land in Tuol Sambor and Kamproeus villages had been registered as villagers’ property, land in Trapaing Pring and Chambak villages had been settled and was no longer classified as communal.
“Therefore, the ministry will not seek any resolution and asks the authorities to take action according to legal procedures against those who incited villagers to protest,” the statement read.
Sem Sang, the villagers’ representative in Trapaing Pring commune, said the ministry’s decision was incorrect and he would request its review.
He said he would ask the Ministry of Land Management and the Anti-Corruption Unit to investigate reports of officials at the commune, district and provincial levels issuing titles to others when the land was owned by villagers.
“A complaint denouncing the ministry’s statement will be filed at the ministry. After that, we will ask the authorities to confirm when exactly villagers sold the land to the company and who witnessed the deal.
“I cannot accept this decision and will ask the ministry to investigate further,” Sang said.
Trapaing Pring commune chief Mom Sabun said there are 12 villages in his commune, with people in six disputing land ownership.
However, he said the reality was those villagers had received compensation, while others had voluntarily agreed to sell land to the company.
He said he suspected the protest might have been agitated by NGOs.
“The dispute remains alive because some outsiders told villagers to do this and that. According to my observations, political parties would not get involved in a case like this. I suspect NGOs have helped stir things up in this case, but I am not certain,” Sabun said.
Theng Savoeun, the director of the Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), said it would be better for authorities to focus on finding resolutions to the land disputes rather than looking to accuse people of inciting them.
He said land disputes persisted because national and provincial authorities neglected to properly address the issue.
“I want the relevant officials to uncover the real causes of land disputes. The authorities should hold public forums for discussions to find the real offenders. Officials, company representatives and villagers should be invited. Land disputes would then be quickly resolved,” Savoeun said.
The CCFC said villagers from 30 communities across five provinces came to Phnom Penh on Tuesday to submit petitions seeking resolutions to land disputes.
The protesters represented 7,615 families from Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Svay Rieng, Tbong Khmum and Kandal provinces locked in disputes over 16,279ha of land.