Fourteen families in Oddar Meanchey province’s O’Smach commune on Friday sent a letter to Chea Sophara, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, asking him to intervene in their land dispute with military officials.
The families accused border military commander Pok Sophal and three other officials from Regiment 402 – Pov Oeun, Yo Yan and Long Ly – of grabbing their land, totalling 43.5ha.
Earlier on February 19, representatives of the families submitted a petition to Prime Minister Hun Sen’s cabinet, seeking a solution to the spat.
Bou Buntha, a member of one of the affected families, said on Monday that Sophal had led a group of armed soldiers to intimidate the families and flattened their land.
“On December 18, last year, the official ordered six of his subordinates, armed with guns, to clear our land with machinery. They claimed they were constructing a road for the military, but we do not believe them,” he said.
Buntha noted that the families have owned and cultivated their land since 2004.
However, Sophal denied having grabbed their land, claiming that the soldiers were indeed constructing a 5m-wide and 2km-long access road to their station for the purpose of “easier mobilisation”.
He said they had obtained permission from the commune, district and provincial authorities.
Sophal said if he grabbed the land, he would be willing to take all legal responsibilities.
“Three representatives of the families were there seeing our clearing activities and had agreed to them, but one representative, Bou Buntha, accused us of land grabbing."
“I do not understand. I explained it to them, but he did not listen to me and now I heard that he had sent a complaint to Samdech [Hun Sen],” he said.
Sophal called for all levels of authority to thoroughly investigate the matter. In case the families posses titles to their land, he said, his team will stop flattening land and building the road.
O’Smach commune chief Uk Bunheng said he had repeatedly reminded the soldiers that the families possessed documents to prove the ownership titles, but the soldiers kept clearing the disputed land.
“Some parts of the [disputed] land were already cleared but the clearing activities have been temporarily halted."
“I tried to mediate between the two parties, but they did not listen to me. Each side wanted to win. I do not know what else I can do, so they [the families] complained to higher authorities,” Bunheng said.
Oddar Meanchey provincial governor Pen Kosal said he was aware of the issue, noting that the families had not filed a complaint to the provincial authority.
“If they filed a complaint to us, we would have solved it for them because we have a special committee for solving land disputes,” he said.