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‘This is mine’, man says as Preah Sihanouk authorities tackle ‘chaotic’ land issues

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
People assemble in groups to encroach on, occupy and measure land to be divided in Preah Sihanouk province. Heng Chivoan

‘This is mine’, man says as Preah Sihanouk authorities tackle ‘chaotic’ land issues

As Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min held an emergency meeting on Tuesday, The Post spoke to those involved in what the authorities have labelled “chaotic” land grabbing in the province.

Min held a Unit Command Team emergency meeting on taking action against land grabbers in the province, with unidentified intermediaries luring them to the area.

“The country has its laws, so we have to follow them without allowing chaotic groups to cause problems,” Min said.

The meeting was attended by four city and district governors, provincial Military Police commanders and police chiefs.

The main purpose of the meeting was to discuss a crackdown on those illegally encroaching on vacant land, a Preah Sihanouk Provincial Hall report on the meeting said.

“Over the past week, people from different provinces have assembled in groups across almost all districts to encroach on, occupy and measure land to be divided,” the provincial administration said.

The report said local authorities had found the groups had moved in from other areas or provinces, with unidentified ringleaders behind them, to encroach on land belonging to others, including state land under the pretext of poverty and homelessness.

The provincial governor, it said, had entrusted duties to the Unit Command Team to investigate sites that had been encroached on and occupied to better understand the situation and identify those involved.

They will be instructed on the law and told to leave the sites to avoid problems when authorities take legal action against them, it added.

The governor also ordered the provincial police chief to join the provincial Military Police commander to monitor and identify all intermediaries so as to take legal action.

The Post saw digging equipment and measuring tapes as people measured land they claimed belonged to them, saying they had cleared the forest a long time ago.

Most said they had bought the land from others but did not have documents to prove it.

Chum Theng, who led around five people planting markers in the area, said the land belonged to him. He had cleared the forest for a long time, he said, and claimed the land belonged to those who lived in Koki village.

Measuring the land, he said 60m by 30m plots belonged to him, with the 24-year-old calling out to others demarcating: “Where are you from? Why do you plant markers on my land? I have guarded the land and cleared the forest for so long – this land is mine.”

Theng then removed the markers planted by the others before speaking to The Post.

“This land is mine. I have cleared it for so long. Those people came to plant markers on the land boundary. I have never seen their faces. I do not know where they come from and now they come to ask for my land."

Content image - Phnom Penh Post
The Post saw digging equipment and measuring tapes as people measured land they claimed belonged to them, saying they had cleared the forest a long time ago. Heng Chivoan

“How can I give it to them? I cleared the forest years ago, and I even spent money buying some parts,” he said.

He took out an unregistered property deed covering 4,508sqm of land in Bit Traing commune’s Chamnaut Ream village. The document had been signed by second deputy commune chief Lim Pov on February 18, last year.

Another person busy marking out the land said it was heard that Prime Minister Hun Sen would allocate the land to them so they had flocked to the area to plant markers.

Bit Traing commune chief Meach Chan told The Post on Tuesday, after calling on a loudhailer for a halt to the planting of markers, that certain people in the area had obtained ownership documents so they could meet authorities to find a resolution.

“They were incited by intermediaries to encroach on and grab land here. I told them the land had titles and ownership documents. ‘Do not do this, brothers and sisters,’” he said he told them. “Please obey the law.”

More than 200 people had flocked to the area to claim land, with some from Preah Sihanouk province and others from elsewhere, Chan said.

“The land, in general, has ownership, but the government issued a sub-decree calling it forest cover and it became forest sanctuary in 2002. But the land now has owners,” Chan said.

The provincial administration could not be reached for further clarification on the matter.

Sun Sophat, a provincial land community representative, told The Post on Tuesday that those who had come to plant markers in the area had recently seen a land dispute resolved in the Poy Machov area.

“People followed the crowd here after hearing of the developments in a land dispute in the Poy Machov area,” he said.

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