Villagers from the Domrey Jak Tlork community in Kraing Deivay commune in Kampong Speu province’s Phnom Sruoch district on Sunday urged the authorities to take back 64ha from a private company they said had illegally grabbed their land.
Community leader Suong Van said the villagers had requested authorities keep the land for collective use.
He said the firm had cleared the land on the grounds that it had bought it from residents living in neighbouring Taing Samrong commune.
Van claimed the 1,452ha of land had been managed by 385 families in Dok Por and Kraing Kor villages, and it had been officially designated a protected area by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 2013.
In June, he said, the unidentified company used machinery to clear 64ha of land.
The clearing, he said, was halted after community members gathered to protest.
“In one day, the firm could clear 64ha because they have a lot of machinery. Without the protest, the company might have cleared much more than this.
“They encroached by around 200m into the community land beyond boundary markers.
“Now the villagers have replaced the markers at their original places,” he said.
Van said he suspected that the firm had colluded with the Kraing Deivay commune authorities in acquiring the land, a claim the commune chief rejected.
He continued that villagers had reported to district authorities and the Forestry Administration, only to be told that the land which had been cleared was not part of the Domrey Jak Tlork community.
“When we protested, they stopped clearing the land, but after the protest, they resumed clearing. We want the land back,” he said.
A commune council member who asked not to be named echoed Van’s claims.
“I wonder why the authorities seem to be fearful [of the company]. I don’t know about the commune chief, but as a commune council member, I need to lead the protests demanding the land back. I need to protect the land,” he said.
Kraing Deivay commune chief Mann Men denied the authorities had colluded to sell the community land. He claimed the land that had been cleared was not part of the community land.
He said the land in question was cleared by well-off villagers who had bought it and not by any private company.
“The district deputy governor and I have inspected the community land three to four times already. I also went there alone twice. I’ve asked the Forestry Administration to clarify it. The problem arose because of a misunderstanding,” he said.
So Kim Seang, the Forestry Administration chief for Phnom Sruoch and Baset districts, said he had visited the area last month to survey the land with GPS devices and found that it was not part of the community.
“If the villagers still demand the land, they should discuss with the village and commune authorities. My team can only handle the technical work,” he said.