Angkor Chey district authorities in Kampot province are set to survey disputed land in Dambok Khpos commune’s Tropeam Ron village in the second week of this month as part of a fact-finding mission to investigate the matter before submitting their report to the provincial governor for his decision.
District governor Koem Bonna said on January 2 that he would cooperate with the Forestry Administration and commune authorities to get an update on the number of people living in the village who are parties to the actual dispute.
“We will go to the actual site ... to make the actual measurements,” he said.
Speaking during a live broadcast on December 22, provincial governor Mao Thonin ordered the district and commune authorities to gather update information on who actually depends on the land right now for their livelihoods.
He said there were reportedly 53 families relying on the land currently, but a report must be prepared for him to review and then he will make a decision in accordance with the law.
“In this case, I instruct the district governor, the Forestry Administration and the community to go and survey the land and I asked the district authorities to update me with the names and the total number of families who are rely on any portion of that 20ha of land and summarise it for me in a report,” he said.
According to Thonin, the location in dispute is being claimed by both local residents and a mining company owned by a businessman identified as Khom Vandy who said the whole area must first be cleared first before mines can be dug.
“Vandy is just a miner who pays taxes to the state, he cannot say that the land belongs to him because he did some mining there,” said Thonin.
Heng Phan, an area resident, claimed that he had been using the land since 1990 without any problems, but in 2007 the commune authorities banned locals from using it and declared it state land and then it was handed over to Vandy for private use, citing his investment in mining there.
Phan said Vandy bulldozed the land and destroyed the crops of 53 families including mangos, jackfruits and seasonal crops such as cucumbers and watermelons and that was the source of the complaint by the 53 families who are requesting that the provincial governor mediate a solution and return the land to the families.
“Currently, the land has no forests. It was taken by Vandy, who also destroyed our farmland. He took the soil he excavated from the land and sold it to a construction company to build roads. But in fact, that soil was stripped from our farmland. We are not happy and we request our land be given back for farming,” he said.
Vandy told The Post that he did not dig up their farmland for himself, rather the soil there was used to develop the commune and village by building roads.
“I did not destroy their mango groves and in all actuality it was they who destroyed more than 100 mango trees on my farm. There is clear evidence that it was a group from these families who were cutting down the trees,” he said.