Koh Kong provincial hall on Tuesday revoked ownership of land near the protected Peam Krasoap Wildlife Sanctuary to prevent further land clearing in the area.
Its announcement raised fears among local communities of a potential forced eviction.
“All illegal land ownership or unregistered land at the Peam Krasoap Wildlife Sanctuary must be returned to Koh Kong authority for annulment.
“Ownership of land that is not registered or has been grabbed and any constructions at the wildlife sanctuary are illegal and subject to legal actions,” it said in a statement dated August 20.
The Peam Krasoap community, which includes villages I and II, in Mondul Seima district, around seven kilometres from the provincial hall, is home to beautiful beaches, mangrove forest, dolphins and various bird species, among others.
Peam Krasoap commune chief Neang Kun said she had not received any formal notice from the higher-ups.
Kun said the annulment of land ownership and a potential eviction without proper compensation will have a major impact on the livelihood of more than 300 families that have been living in the area since 2004.
The villagers, whose land ownership was granted by local authorities, rely on fishing and do not have enough land for cultivating agricultural crops.
“Their livelihood depends on nature. They have no agricultural land. Each family was given a plot of land measuring 650 square metres to build homes.
“If they are evicted from the area, I don’t know where they can go because they have been living in the area for more than 10 years,” Kun said.
Peam Krasoap community representative Siek Sabun expressed deep concerns.
“I hope the authority will find a solution to avoid forced eviction. And if we are evicted, I hope they will provide proper compensation,” he said.
Koh Kong governor Phouthong Mithona and provincial hall spokesperson Sok Sothy could not be reached for comment on Tuesday.
Mondul Seima district governor Hak Leng said he was unsure of the community’s fate. “We will wait and see before making an assessment,” he said.
Provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Mean Prom Mony said the authorities should provide proper compensation in case of an eviction, and that a land swap with the community would also be a good compromise.
He said failure to do so could result in a prolonged land dispute.
The sanctuary was designated a protected area by royal decree in 1993.
It serves to help prevent natural disasters and provides for the local community’s livelihood.