Preah Sihanouk provincial authorities have announced they would not recognise the more than 200 families who had illegally built makeshift huts and planted boundary markers on state and private land at Rithy II village in Stung Hav district’s Keo Phos commune.
Stung Hav district governor Chhay Sokunda told The Post on Monday that the recent “anarchic” land grabbing followed the rapid increase in land prices in the province over the years.
He said the district authority had warned the families against land grabbing and instructed them to move out, only to see them return to build their huts at night.
“We went to educate them, but they did not listen. So our district authority has warned them of legal actions if they continue to grab land. The authorities would not recognise their land ownership. Sometimes they came to register their land together with other families, claiming they had lived there [for a long time]."
“Some people came to build their huts at night and then came to tell the authorities that they are residents there. But we don’t know where they were from, so we would not recognise them,” he said.
The land grabbing has prompted at least one valid title holder to file a complaint.
Kong Malea, who “rightfully” owned a plot of land in Keo Phos commune’s Rithy 2 village, has lodged a complaint against Kun Samnang, accusing him and his accomplices of grabbing her land and destroying her cash crops.
“Over the past few days, Kun Samnang and his group came to clear my land and aggressively built their huts with complete disregard for the law and the landowner. I have a hard title issued by the authorities at all levels to prove that I rightfully own the land,” she said in the complaint.
Last month Keo Phos commune chief Pheng Min also notified the 222 families of their unlawful activities.
“Our Keo Phos authority does not recognise your residence and possession of immovable properties in the area. The land that you have cleared and grabbed belongs to rightful owners who have valid titles and full legitimate right to manage the land,” Min said in the notification.
Preah Sihanouk provincial hall spokesman Kheang Phirum told The Post on Monday that the authorities will initially continue to educate the offenders and will take legal action should they repeat the offences. He said some villages had been merely lured by “masterminds” into grabbing land.
Last month, the provincial authorities arrested 11 people for leading locals and outsiders to encroach on state and private land for private ownership.
“The masterminds incited people to grab land. Those who were cheated retreated automatically after we arrested the masterminds."
“Regarding land grabbing in Stung Hav, we will definitely enforce the law but our provincial and district authorities would educate them first because some people were deceived into grabbing land by masterminds who lied to them that the state will cede the land to them,” he said.
Phearum said there had been far fewer cases of land grabbing in other areas after authorities arrested the masterminds.
Sok Sokhom, the director of the Cambodian National Research Organisation (CNRO), echoed the officials’ claims of “organised” land grab. He said most people who flocked to the province to grab land were led by their masterminds.
“The provincial authorities have already identified [the masterminds] and now they are investigating further. Those who came to grab land were outsiders and not locals in the area."
“They came by trucks at night to build huts and planted land markers illegally. Land grabbing in the Bit Traing area [in Prey Nop district] is not an issue anymore after the crackdown, but in Stung Hav district land grabbing still persists, especially in the mangrove area,” he said.