The community in the Chraing Krahorm area of Kampong Thom province’s Prasat Sambor district has asked for immediate intervention from the provincial authorities to stop the encroachment on their 898ha of community land by outsiders who they say have been constructing buildings and planting cashew trees.

The Chraing Krahorm area is classified as state public land and is not available for private ownership without reclassification. However, there are many families living in the area who rely on it for small-scale agriculture that is organised communally without claiming any individual rights or title to the land.

Sorn Sum, head of the Chraing Krahorm community, said on December 13 that unfamiliar people had encroached on the land in Choam village of Tang Krasau commune and were building sheds and houses.

Members of the community also accuse local authorities of systematically colluding with the encroachers.

He said the community has relied on the land since 2008, but in 2020 and 2021 people from outside the community began to encroach on the land by putting up fences and trying to sell plots of land they did not have title to even though they were advised not to do so. People in the community therefore suspected that they may have connections to someone wealthy or powerful, according to Sum.

“We do try to protect the land but it is very tough for us to do so and our protection cannot overcome interference by the rich and powerful. For the past two years, they’ve been arriving and planting cashew nut trees all over the place.

“So what can my side do now? For example, we reported this to the Forestry Administration but they said they are busy with this or that. The local authorities just keep saying that we should report it to those same forestry officials.

“This is what we talk about every day. If the state needs the land back, then we are willing to return it as long as the state uses it for public purposes, but if it is sold to the private sector, we’ll never agree to that,” he said.

Tang Krasau commune chief Bun Ra said on December 13 that the community has never tried to claim ownership or sell plots there but instead tried to preserve the area and respect its status as state public land. However, there were people from other places that arrived more recently who claimed to be members of the community but were actually strangers.

He added that community members have relied on the land for their livelihoods since 2005. In 2008, about 150 families formed a community for shared use of the land.

Provincial deputy governor Sok Hay said on December 13 that he had yet to receive clear information about the issue but would instruct officials to inspect the land and write a report.

Forestry Administration acting director Bun Sothy said on December 13 that specialists had gone there to study the issue some time ago and they continue to work on it but it may take some time because the land spans across many hectares and they have to follow the proper procedures.

Citing information he received from the specialists, he said there were no permanent buildings constructed there or if there were, they had already been dismantled.