Kampong Speu provincial governor Vei Samnang rejected villagers' request on Sunday for 250ha of land within the Kirirom National Park in Phnom Sruoch district on grounds that the park has been designated a protected area by a royal decree.
The villagers, who claimed to have lived in the area since the 1980s but had no land titles, said they feared eviction after the government awarded a total of 4,000ha of economic land concessions to two private firms.
Samnang said the rejection is meant to prevent opportunists from clearing the forest for personal gains, and that the provincial authority had allocated land outside the park for them as a social land concession.
“We can't allow further encroachment on forest land. If they do need land, we have social land concessions for them. Why don’t they accept it instead of demanding land in the forest? We don’t know where they are from,” he said.
Long Borin, a representative of the 100 families residing in Chambak commune's Chamkar Te and Thmey villages, said they had requested land titles to avoid potential eviction after the government granted a 2,000ha economic land concession to Sokimex – an allegedly well-connected company owned by prominent tycoon Sok Kong – and another 2,000ha to A2A, a Japanese-owned firm.
“If there are no private companies here, villagers wouldn't fear eviction. Now we are worried that they may eventually force us from the villages,” he said.
Chambek commune chief Chey Him said on Sunday that people in the area really need the land because they have lived there since 1980 but still have no land titles.