The Pursat Provincial Administration is reviewing a decision made by the provincial land management committee, following a request from 20 families. The decision concerns 37.5ha of land in O’Som commune’s Chhay Lok village of Veal Veng district.

Provincial governor Cheav Tay said on February 21 that he had instructed the administration and a working group to investigate the situation.

“This is something we need to resolve as quickly as possible. Once a report of the inspection is submitted to me, I will schedule a meeting to discuss this,” he said.

The provincial administration said on February 16 that the 20 families had occupied the land and relied on it for their livelihoods. The provincial environment department had intended to reclaim the land as state property.

O’Som commune chief Sok Boeun said on February 21 that the people have lived there for a long time, although he could not remember exactly when they had moved onto the land. They had grown various crops such as potatoes, jackfruit, bananas and durian.

“When I pass by, I can tell they have been there for years. I don’t know exactly how many, but a long time,” he added.

The Post could not contact any representative of the 20 families on February 21. But Van Saman, chief of Chhay Lok village, said the people have used the land since 2007. In the last three years or so, environmental officials have stopped them from continuing to do so.

The provincial environment department had intended to reclaim the land as state property. PURSAT PROVINCIAL ADMINISTION

She added that the people had asked permission to continue to use the land to earn their livelihoods because it is close to the village.

“Now they do not farm anything on the land. They do not dare, because they are afraid they will be punished by the officials,” she said.

Provincial environment department director Kong Puthyra said on February 21 that the site was originally forested, and that nobody knew where the families had come from. They had secretly encroached on the forest land, and environment officials evicted them from the land.

“They cleared the forest. We followed procedure and built a case file which was submitted to the provincial court prosecutor,” he said.

He added that it was right for the governor to set up a working group to look into any problems in the province, but that allocating state land to anybody was outside of his jurisdiction.

“We will investigate the situation and make a request to the government or Ministry of Interior to resolve this issue,” he said.

Puthyra added that if the people really had no land of their own and relied on the disputed land to make their livings, then the problem would be easy to solve. The main problem, he said, was that there were people coming from outside the area that caused problems. This created additional complexity, he said.