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Officials own land, claim villagers

Families affected by land disputes in Preah Vihear’s Chea Ksan district appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene in Phnom Penh
Families affected by land disputes in Preah Vihear’s Chea Ksan district appeal to Prime Minister Hun Sen to intervene in Phnom Penh last year. HENG CHIVOAN

Officials own land, claim villagers

Local cadastral land officials, a district governor and RCAF personnel all own plots of a social land concession in Preah Vihear originally intended to be distributed to poor villagers, local rights group Adhoc alleged.

In 2007, the government granted 556 hectares of land in Choam Ksan district’s Kantuot and Sre Am communes to the now-defunct Drug and Aids Research and Prevention Organisation (DARPO).

DARPO has been at the centre of a bitter and protracted land dispute since then, with villagers alleging that the NGO divided and sold the land concession, and that its workers committed violence, rape and other human rights abuses.

According to villagers and Adhoc, the provincial authority last week announced that temporary land titles had been awarded to a number of officials holding the disputed land after it was measured by student volunteers.

Lor Chan, provincial coordinator at Adhoc, said yesterday that soldier Chhim Sokha, Choam Ksan Governor Sok Hay and three cadastral land officials owned land in the concession.

“It is the social land concession, yet the rich and powerful own many plots of land there,” Chan said.

“This is the main reason for the ongoing dispute, despite villagers protesting at Hun Sen’s house four times and the prime minister publicly asking for the authorities to take action.”

Kantuot villager Ty Tum, 46, who claims he was cheated out of a plot in 2008 after paying $4,000 for it in 2002, said he asked the local cadastral office to stop volunteer students from measuring the disputed land last month and filed another complaint when the temporary land titles were announced last week.

“I saw the names of the authorities and the top officers of the army on the [land title] list while my group of over 90 families [still] has no solution at all,” he said.

Muol Mab, Kantuot commune chief, acknowledged that officials owned concession land and said the dispute had not been solved as multiple owners claimed to have bought the same plots.

District Governor Sok Hay declined to comment on the issue.

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