A local businessman in Banteay Meanchey province has drawn the ire of the provincial governor after villagers claimed he fenced off a public well inside a nearby cave and began to charge them money for access.
Three-hundred and forty families from Banteay Neang village in Mongkol Borei district have complained multiple times to authorities for more than two years about Sok Vitith’s actions, according to Sreb Sokha, one of the village’s residents.
“The cave is public property and people living in the area depend on it,” Sokha said. “For the last two years, district authorities and the famous businessman colluded to prohibit people from using it” and charged for access, she added.
Vitith, who runs a company that provides the village with electricity and whose son owns a bottled water factory nearby, said he had fenced off the cave only to prevent cattle from entering, and had not charged the villagers any money.
“The people accused me out of envy,” he said.
His story was disputed by multiple local authorities, however. Bun Leoun, a commune councillor for Banteay Neang commune, said he had heard the villagers’ complaints many times but was unable to help due to higher-ups working with Vitith.
“People filed complaints to me several times, and I do not know what to reply, because the superiors colluded with the company,” he said.
Deputy District Governor Roth Dasinang said yesterday that the two sides had met several times over the last two years to work on a solution, and said Vitith had been ordered to solve the matter multiple times in the past. Dasinang also said that the businessman restricted access for his personal gain.
“In the last few days, there is a reaction from provincial governor, and he was furious when he heard about this,” Dasinang said. “He ordered me to ... solve this case for the people, because it is not private property.”