Authorities in Mondulkiri province on Friday and Saturday removed some 400 boundary poles planted by villagers around state land reserved to build an airport, while local people claimed they have legitimate ownership of the land with proof from the local authorities.
The airport land is located in Pou Hyam village in O’Raing district’s Sen Monorom commune, while some of the poles were planted within the Keo Seima Wildlife Sanctuary.
Pou Hyam village chief Nhang Myok told The Post on Sunday that most of the poles were planted by villagers in 2016 and 2017 to mark their land boundaries, while a small number were planted in concrete more recently.
He said some of the markers were planted on the land reserved for the airport but the authorities had accidentally removed some boundary poles on land which genuinely belonged to villagers who have legitimate documents.
“The area was bought and sold by people from outside and within the region. However, some of the land transactions were acknowledged by the authorities and some were not.
“Only a small area within the land reserved for the airport has proper land titles which are acknowledged by the village and commune authorities. What can I do? Development always has minor consequences,” he said.
On Friday, Mondulkiri provincial governor Svay Sam Eang led a joint task force – including environmental officials, police and military personnel – to remove the boundary poles which he claimed were planted by ill-intentioned people to violate the airport land and other state protected areas.
“The airport proposal is a collaboration between the civil aviation administration working with provincial authorities.
“They have reserved a plot of land to build the airport covering 900ha in Sen Monorom commune’s Pou Hyam village,” Sam Eang said on the provincial administration’s Facebook page.
Both provincial hall spokesman Sok Sera and provincial administration spokesman Heak Sophan said they could not provide more details because they did not participate in the removal of the poles as they were on a mission in Phnom Penh.
Provincial Environment Department director Keo Sopheak said: “I will investigate further [to find the people who planted the poles within the wildlife sanctuary] and the offenders had better show us the laws that permit them to do that,” Sopheak said.
In early May, Pou Hyam villagers accused the local authority of wrongly demarcating the airport’s boundary, saying it encroached on some 100ha – owned by more than 30 families – some of which had belonged to their ancestors.
A local villager who asked not be named told The Post on Sunday that the concrete poles belonged to traders, while the old wooden poles belonged to local people and were planted a long time ago to identify the boundary of their farms.
The source said their farmland is affected by the airport development proposal and the villagers were asking for reasonable compensation.
“There are four traditional burial plots on the airport site. The authorities should remove the burial plots from the scheme or choose a different location because, according to the beliefs and traditions of the Bunong ethnic group, they’re not allowed to re-locate the burial site,” the villager added.
The source said that on May 28, 63 families from Pou Hyam village collected thumbprints to petition for intervention and another 30 families whose land was located inside the proposed airport site had also joined in because they are concerned they might lose their farmland.
Eang Mengly, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that according to the Land Law, villagers who controlled the land a long time ago have the right to ownership.
“If there’s a need to confiscate their land for development purposes, they have to be compensated accordingly.
“The authorities should investigate very clearly. Whoever has legitimate ownership of the land – and who are hence victims in this case – should be offered solutions according to the law,” Mengly said.