Officials from the Preah Vihear provincial Land Management Department and Rovieng district yesterday inspected a piece of land at the centre of a dispute between gold mining company Delcom and 56 families following a petition the families filed last month at the Ministry of Land Management.

Rovieng Governor Ung Vuthy said the visit was the first step in resolving the dispute by identifying the families and examining documents that substantiate their claim to the land.

Some villagers claim that they have been living in the area for decades, going back to 1979 or 1980, though Vuthy alleged that was not true.

“The land [was] covered by forest at that time,” he said.

An official with the Land Management Department, who asked to remain anonymous, said officials had visited the villagers due to their petition, which asked the government to annul contracts families signed with Delcom acknowledging they were living on the company’s land.

The villagers claimed they signed the contracts because they didn’t know the contents and were intimidated by commune authorities.