Some 200 families in Anlong and Boeung Krochab Choeung villages, in Prek Tameak commune, Khsach Kandal district, in Kandal province, have expressed concern over the clearing and landfilling activities in the natural lake area.
They claim the activities may involve collusion between local authorities and traders to occupy the area as private land.
However, the authorities have denied their allegations and said the work is being carried out as a village-commune development.
One resident of Anlong village who did not want to be named said on Thursday that he is worried about the loss of more than 4ha of natural lakes in the village.
“The commune and village authorities have colluded with other traders to use tractors to clear the lake and fill more than 10 per cent of it.
“I am almost 40 years old and have been seeing this lake since I was born. It was so big, but it has become smaller now because people living near the lake always encroached into it. Now, there are traders filling in the land for private ownership,” he claimed.
He also claimed that a person by the name of Poch Sour had bought the lake and colluded with the village and commune chiefs to clear it without having any meeting or holding a public consultation inform villagers of the matter.
“I urge the authorities to keep this natural lake in order to store water in the rainy season not to flood the village and the people’s homes,” he said.
Another villager from Boeung Krachab Chhoeurng village, who also asked to remain anonymous, said during the rainy season, the lake is used to store water for irrigation, as a fish sanctuary and to allow cows to drink.
“It does not make sense to develop the lake as the authorities already have a budget to develop the village.
“If we destroy it, we lose everything. But if it remains, we will continue to have a lake with plenty of water and fish. As citizens, we support the restoration of the lake rather than destroying it. We want the lake restored to what it was,” he said.
Boeung Krachab Chhoeung village chief, Kruy Chheang Lin, said on Thursday that the authorities did not allow the lake to be destroyed, but only to deepen it by another 6m and create a drainage system in case of heavy flooding.
He said the natural lake is the common property for the villagers’ use and the question of selling or grabbing it for private ownership did not arise.
“We are only deepening it. There’s no buying or selling of anything. We are doing so that our village will not flood during the rainy season. I too agree that if we destroy the lake, the village would flood during the rainy season, so we will not destroy it but make a canal for floodwaters to run out,” he said.
Prek Tameak commune chief Chhay Sen who the villagers accuse said the authorities had only used tractors to construct waterways (canals), clear the forest and the bottom of the lake only. There is no intention to destroy the lake.
“The lake can store a lot of water and doesn’t need to be destroyed or turned into something else. People accuse us without understanding our development strategy,” he said.
Khsach Kandal district governor Bun Pheng said on Thursday that there have been those who encroached into the lake, but the authorities always stopped it in time. Today, the remaining 4ha of lake land cannot be encroached as it is state property.
He said last month there was an attempted land grab of the lake, but he prevented the clearing, buying and selling of it, and requested the Kandal provincial government to list it as state property. And he ordered commune officials to prevent further clearing of the lake.
“On Wednesday, I was informed that the lake is still being filled secretly. I assigned my expert officers to stop them once again, and we warned and contacted the owner of the machinery that was being used in the landfilling.
“If he still encroaches into the lake, we will arrest and produce him in court, and seize his machinery. We know the machinery’s owner and have asked for guidance from higher-ups,” he said.
Sour, who is accused of being the trader involved in selling the lake, could not be reached for comment about the accusation.