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Preah Sihanouk land dispute agreement nullified ‘to prevent irregular issues’

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Houses were torn down by the authorities in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nop district last month. Pha Lina

Preah Sihanouk land dispute agreement nullified ‘to prevent irregular issues’

The Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries has reversed its previous order to allocate land to 48 families in Preah Sihanouk province’s Koki village – the scene of violent clashes between protesters and security forces – in order to follow procedure in trying to resolve a long-running land dispute.

The Supreme Court had issued a ruling over the 71ha of land that led to a violent confrontation between villagers and government joint forces in mid-January.

In July last year, provincial governor Yun Min requested the ministry set aside more than 26ha from an area designated as protected forest in a 2002 sub-decree for the 48 families, who claimed to have lived in the area since 1992. The land in question, in Prey Nop district’s Bit Traing commune, was measured at 32ha.

The nullification letter, signed by Minister of Agriculture Veng Sakhon and dated January 31, said the ministry had previously agreed with Min’s request to allocate the land to the families in the area but, after receiving guidance from Prime Minister Hun Sen, the ministry decided to rescind that agreement in order to prevent further confrontations.

“In order to prevent other irregular issues that might arise from the regulatory process, the ministry has decided to nullify the previous agreement,” the letter said.

Ministry spokesperson Chan Heng declined to comment and referred further questions to the Forestry Administration.

Forestry Administration director Keo Omalis could not be reached for comment on Sunday.

On January 24, there were violent clashes between some 300 villagers, who claimed to be resident on 71ha of land in Koki village, and more than 200 members of the security forces who went in to implement the 2017 Supreme Court ruling in the case.

After the clashes, Sok Sovann Vathana Sabung, head of the Khmer Rise Party and current rotating president of the Supreme Consultation and Advisory Council established by Hun Sen following the July 29 national elections, said he had submitted his executive summary of the case to the prime minister because the authorities had followed the court order wrongly and with too much haste.

“The provincial administration have failed to protect state land and implemented the Supreme Court ruling wrongly,” said the report, which also cited a rumour that part of the disputed land was purchased by Min’s wife.

Governor Min told The Post it was the ministry’s right to nullify the request to set aside land.

He denied the allegation his wife had recently bought land in the contested area, saying it was untrue and intended to ruin his reputation.

“I would like to confirm once more that I was not personally involved in the disputed area. [The rumour] is not true.”

The Supreme Court ruled in 2017 that the disputed area measured 71ha and had been bought and sold since 1993 by Heng Uy Hok, who had attempted to purchase it from nine families.

But payment was not made in full, and the families ended the sale and continued to own the land, the court said.

The main cause of the confrontation was a 26ha area that remained under dispute.

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