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Order signals likely end to airport land dispute

Two men ride past a map of the proposed extension of Phnom Penh International Airport earlier this week.
Two men ride past a map of the proposed extension of Phnom Penh International Airport earlier this week. Heng Chivoan

Order signals likely end to airport land dispute

The Council of Ministers on Tuesday directed the State Secretariat of Civil Aviation (SSCA) to submit a confirmation that the city’s airport will not be expanded so that officials can begin issuing land titles to surrounding communities, seemingly signalling an end a long-running land dispute.

The notification requests that the SSCA provide the Ministry of Land Management a final outline of the airport’s boundary, highlighting the five so-called “SOS” communities surrounding it, and guidelines for construction restrictions, given the villages’ proximity to the runway. Additionally, the notice asks villagers to register their land with local authorities and pay the relevant taxes before getting land titles.

“The government has decided not to develop the airport, so the people can live there,” said Yim Nola, head of an inter-ministerial group formed to find solutions to land disputes.

Nola said it was equally important to inform people of the restrictions they can face if they wanted to construct new homes in the communities, which is why the SSCA would release these guidelines soon.

Villagers living in five communities – Trapaing Lavea, Thmor Kol, Kork Chambang, Tanguon and Chrey Chisak – have been engaged in a dispute with local authorities after plans to expand the airport raised fears of of potential evictions. Apart from regular protests and petitions, many villagers had painted a large “SOS” on their roofs ahead of US President Barack Obama’s visit to the capital in 2012.

The expansion plans were eventually scrapped, but community members feared their land tenure remained insecure.

SSCA spokesman Sinn Sereyvutha said now that the government was sure it wouldn’t expand the airport, the boundary of the site would remain unchanged. Additionally, while the agency had to deal with overzealous villagers constructing long television antennas in the past, construction guidelines will prevent any such incidents.

“Once we submit our report, it will be up to the Ministry of Land Management and Construction to start the process of issuing land titles. But that is according to their procedures,” he added.

News of the notification was welcomed by the five communities, with Chray Nim, a Thmor Kol representative, saying it was a victory after years of attempting to ensure an end to the eviction speculation. “The government has understood and solved our concerns, so there is nothing happier than getting land titles for us,” she said.

Land Ministry officials could not be reached yesterday.

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