Kampot provincial governor Mao Thonin announced the opening of an investigation into irregularities related to the sale of state-owned land and reservoirs to a private company by sub-national officials in Dang Tung district.

The private company allegedly wished to purchase the reservoirs to fill them in and combine them with the state-land in order to build a suburban gated community there (known as a borey in Khmer).

Mao Thonin held a public forum on October 24 on the grounds of the Dang Tong district hall with residents and stakeholders in attendance in order to resolve land disputes between four families and the Seng Sambath Company, which was accused of colluding with some officials in the district to purchase the land and reservoirs in Sre Chea Kang Choeung commune’s Sophy village.

Seng Sambath Company claims that it purchased the rights to occupy 10 ha of land from the 19 families living there, but now they’ve been ordered to stop work on the development while the matter is investigated.

At the forum, Thonin declared that the four families who refused to sell their land retained their rights to occupy that land despite the Seng Sambath Company having already cleared it.

Thonin also announced that the reservoirs would be retained rather than filled-in and that if the company intends to go ahead with any plans to develop any part of the area into a borey they must apply at the provincial level again for review and approval.

He added that he would investigate the troubling irregularities that seem to have taken place related to the sale of state-owned land further and bring any perpetrators of illegal acts to justice, though he felt they had enough evidence already to prove the case.

“With respect to the conversion of land from agricultural land to residential land, the provincial authorities have the right to grant only 3 ha concessions so how is it that more than 10 ha here have been converted and divided into plots? How is that a legal solution? I have sufficient documents in my hands already [to prosecute this case] from the beginning to the end.

“For documents involving responsible individuals [government officials], I will open a legal investigation. I have to take administrative measures against any officials whose actions were contrary to the law,” he added.

The local villagers who attended the forum applauded the decision, while the representatives from the Seng Sambath Company agreed to its terms with less enthusiasm but without further dispute.

Yun Phally, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said that the actions taken by the governor and his administration were in his view correct and that he would continue to monitor the situation to make sure that the perpetrators will actually be punished according to the law if they are determined to be guilty.

“With respect to this case – if we talk about the law – those who falsify public documents have to be held accountable under criminal law . . . And those who used these documents should also be punished for conspiracy,” he said.