More than 300 families briefly blocked the entrance to the Kandal Provincial Hall on Monday morning to ask the governor to intervene in a land dispute with well-connected conglomerate ING Holdings, which they say has built a fence around Boeung Chi Po, one of multiple lakes the company is filling in.
The villagers, who live on the lake in Takhmao town’s Deum Mean commune, accuse tycoon Ing Bunhov, ING’s chairman, of colluding with officials to get land titles for the lake.
Ho Sokheng, 50, a community representative, said villagers had been living and growing crops on the land since 1999, but claimed the company started preventing villagers from using the lake in 2016.
“In 2016, the company got the land title and rented this land to outsiders to grow crops,” Sokheng said. “The firm also has also built fences around the lake.”
An official from the provincial hall came to receive their petition and asked them to stop blocking access to the building.
Reached by phone, Kandal Provincial Governor Mao Phirun said he received the petition from the families and “will try [his] best to mediate with the company”.
“This lake does not belong to people,” Phirun said. “They just want it to be state land and want to farm on the land like before.”
Phirun said he did not know what the company planned to build on the land, which is close to the site of a massive satellite city that ING Holdings is developing in the Boeung Tumpun and Choeung Ek wetlands.
In February, the company also received 30 hectares of land in the same area in a swap with the Ministry of Interior.
Stung Chrov Village Chief Hoem Chhun, who said villagers used the lake to grow crops for years, said that ING Holdings’s land title appeared to be irregular.
“Since the location is in Kandal province, Kandal provincial authorities should be the one issuing the land title, but it is the Phnom Penh municipal authority issuing the land title for the company,” Chhun said.
“The company has avoided solving the problem and used security guards to ban villagers from going near the lake.”
ING representatives could not be reached on Monday. Ministry of Land Management spokesman Seng Lot directed questions to Phnom Penh City Hall spokesman Met Measpheakdey, who could not be reached.