Twenty families in Kampong Speu province said environmental officials have destroyed their crops, demolished their homes and ordered them to relocate from the land they claimed to have lived on for 10 years.
Speaking to The Post on Wednesday, Sok Srey Nath, a resident of Putra village, Trapaing Chor commune, said she and other residents have depended on the land for the past 10 years, but village and commune authorities never issued a land title.
“The land was first controlled by the Kosmos company. When the firm left it became State land. We have been living there until today, but when we went to apply for the land title, the village and commune authorities did not dare make it for us,” Srey Nath said.
Resident Srey Leap said on Wednesday the site housing the 20 families is a plot 10m wide and 100m in length.
“The environment official told us we live on State land. We came to live on the land because it was free and we didn’t ask for permission from anyone,” Leap said.
Trapaing Chor commune chief Tep Nem said on Wednesday the land has been disputed for a long time. He said when the companies went bankrupt, the State took back the land to manage.
He said people then lived there, but he did not know for sure whether their settlements were truly allowed.
“I do not know for sure, but they said they asked for a temporary contract with the environment officials. When they stayed for a long time, the State needed them to leave and they didn’t. So the environmental officials removed them,” he said.
Phnom Oral Wildlife Sanctuary deputy director Hul Mara rejected the claim.
“They are not local people but they took the opportunity to take land and claim the government allocated it to them,” he said.
Chea Hean, the director of the NGO Anti-Corruption, Natural Resource Protection and Civil Rights Protection (ACNCIPO), told The Post it was forest land encroachment.
“It’s forest land and many people there grabbed State land to sell,” he said.
People living in that area claim to have been there for up to 10 years in the documents, but in fact, they just came in February, he said.
“Their settlement included cutting forest to build fences and selling the land to other people. Buyers sued them because they are not able to stay there. The buyers are not allowed to live so they let people who sold it live there,” he said.