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PM calls out ‘mastermind’ of Preah Sihanouk landgrabbing

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The site where illegal dwellings were built in the SSEZ which resulted in four arrests on August 16.PREAH SIHANOUK PROVINCIAL ADMINISTRATION

PM calls out ‘mastermind’ of Preah Sihanouk landgrabbing

Prime Minister Hun Sen has rejected the pleas of a purported supporter in Preah Sihanouk province to intervene on his behalf, instead publicly telling the unnamed man and those associated with him to take responsibility for scheming with others to encroach on state land there.

Speaking at the University of Puthisastra graduation ceremony on August 17, Hun Sen said the man, who claimed to be a member of the ruling Cambodian People’s Party (CPP) and was wearing a shirt with a CPP logo, had called for his help in a video clip shared on social media.

“He was wearing a CPP shirt, saying: ‘Samdech, help me! They’re arresting me!’ And like this, and like that. I sent the clip to [Preah Sihanouk governor] Kuoch Chamroeun, who said they were a group that had mobilised people to encroach on state land and that the man turned out to be the mastermind.

“This ‘mastermind’ must appear before the provincial administration and explain himself. You have mobilised people to destroy forests and encroach on protected areas. You must take responsibility,” he said, warning that the man would be arrested if he did not turn himself in to authorities.

Both the Preah Sihanouk and Preah Vihear provincial administrations in recent days have warned the public about illegal land brokers trying to fraudulently sell land that does not belong to them.

In Preah Sihanouk, authorities said lawless land-grabbers have recently built 300 dwellings on private land belonging to a company in the Sihanoukville Special Economic Zone (SSEZ).

Provincial hall spokesman Kheang Phearom told The Post that the encroachers had illegally constructed and occupied land belonging to the firm, Sihanoukville Special Engineering Co Ltd.

In order to prevent further encroachment, the provincial administration will establish a joint working group to measure the boundaries of the land there and demarcate it and then clear those homes from it.

Phearom said that in the past, authorities had already explained the law to these encroachers in person and through the website of the provincial administration, warning them that encroachment and unauthorised construction in the SSEZ and other areas in the province was an illegal act that could be penalised according to the law.

At the SSEZ, he said many people had moved out in compliance with the authorities’ instructions since April 27, but some people did not listen and continued their encroachment, including on the company’s land.

In an August 15 press statement, the provincial administration said that while authorities were busy with the June 5 commune council elections, brokers had worked up a scheme and convinced people to encroach on land there that they fraudulently sold to them.

An inspection team from the provincial administration had found hundreds of homes on that location.

“We will take the strictest legal action, without exception, for those behind this incitement to cause social unrest and anarchy,” said the statement.

The provincial administration also instructed authorities to increase their efforts at preventing illegal land encroachment in protected areas of the province.

In a letter dated August 15, the provincial hall noted that some land can be allocated to those living there who have depended on it for a long period of time.

It also instructed town and district administrations to pay attention to managing the data and statistics about people that had actually stayed in those areas for a long time in order to allocate land to them and provide proof of ownership while also reserving 10 per cent of the land for collective use by the community.

It said the local authorities must increase their vigilance with monitoring and controlling the progression of these situations to prevent any illegal encroachment on forest land or state land.

Following the call, a joint force from the provincial administration on August 16 began to dismantle illegal dwellings built in the SSEZ and many of the people found living there had to sign contracts promising to return the land to the state and to cease encroachment activities.

At one point, some protesters carrying knives, slingshots, rocks and Molotov cocktail appeared, seemingly intent on clashing with law enforcement officers, but they were quickly subdued.

Officers arrested four suspects at the scene who confessed that they had constructed shacks in the SSEZ after being incited to do so by other people not present. The administration said they had noted the possible identities of the plotters, but declined to reveal them at this time, citing an ongoing investigation.

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