Authorities will on Monday inspect and measure the Sihanoukville land at the centre of a long-running dispute between more than 100 families and local leaders, Preah Sihanouk provincial environmental department director Samut Sothearith told The Post on Sunday.
The families claim the land, at Group 18 in Commune 1’s Village 1, was donated to them, despite a 1997 royal decree determining that it belongs to the protected Kbal Chhay freshwater basin.
The families’ representative, Lim Veasna, told The Post on Sunday that they submitted a petition to the governor in November but a solution has yet to be provided.
“The villagers have lived on the land since 2014. The area we live in was a part of the protected Kbal Chhay freshwater area, according to a government decree. The land was donated to us. However, the authorities only [gave land to some families as compensation]. Our group of more than 100 families did not receive any land to build houses on."
“Group 18 chief Chan Vibol destroyed our homes and our crops, and he does not allow us to live on the land without an official letter from provincial authorities."
“He said it belongs to the government and they are merely following orders,” Veasna said.
“Vibol has threatened and intimidated us, and prohibited us from accessing the area to build houses, but his team has invited buyers to come and purchase our land,” the petition says.
It claims that Vibol and real estate brokers have been working to sell plots of land since the decree was issued on November 20, 1997.
The government issued a sub-decree, the petition claims, offering part of the land in the protected area to people who had been living there.
However, Vibol claims provincial authorities asked him to protect and defend the area, it adds.
“Therefore, to find a peaceful solution, people from the more than 100 families, who live on about 5ha of land, have asked for the provincial governor’s intervention to help in resolving this issue,” Veasna said.
Sothearith told The Post: “[On Monday] at around 8am, provincial authorities will inspect the site, measure the land and review the old boundary in accordance with Sub-decree 116. We will review the boundary based the sub-decree and the land claimed by the villagers."
“However, we did not give the land to the people. I will manage the land in line with the sub-decree. I need to ascertain boundaries, like house boundaries, to determine which land belongs to the government and which belongs to the people.”
You Veasna, who represents communities locked in land disputes in Preah Sihanouk province, told The Post that the villagers have lived in the area for about five years – longer in some cases.
He said some had purchased their land from Vibol.
“I ask the provincial authorities to help find a solution for the people because some of them have lived in the area since 2014. They are all poor. They have no houses. Some have rented houses from other people,” he said.
Provincial hall spokesperson Or Saroeun declined to comment as he was not familiar with the situation, he said.