Hundreds of people gathered to protest at the Kandal Stung district hall against a company that has allegedly laid claim to their land on Friday, part of an ongoing dispute that involves thousands of families in Kandal province over an area slated to become a new airport.
Roughly 1,200 families from Ampov Prey commune thumb-printed a document asking district officials for compensation after learning that land they have lived on – some of them since the mid-1990s, according to the group's representatives – is likely to become part of the new development.
Village representative Yen Yat, 52, said around 400 hectares in the commune were claimed by Heng Development company, owned by Oknha Seang Chanheng, as well as other unknown companies that appear to have real estate interests in the area.
“Heng Development was the first company that grabbed our land, but now this company may have transferred to another company which we don’t know,” Yat said. “There are around five companies total.”
“We aren’t protesting against the development,” Yat added. “We just want proper compensation because we farm and fish on this land.”
The dispute is the latest to erupt in Kandal Stung district after the government announced a massive new airport development in the area in January, sending land prices skyrocketing.
Read more: Will huge new airport planned for Kandal see locals stripped of land?
Deputy district governor Ouch Saroeun said he met with about 20 representatives from the Ampov Prey villagers on Friday and would forward their petition to the provincial governor, Mao Phearun, who previously denied the same villagers’ claims last month after declaring they lacked land titles.
Saroeun also acknowledged that several private companies and individuals own land in the area, but said he could not name the companies or individuals.
“I am just a mediator,” Saroeun said. “I just bring the word to the higher level.”
“We will do everything to protect the interests of the people,” he added.
On Wednesday, residents of nearby Choeung Koeub commune protested against the Min Yu Cultural Foundation, a little-known company linked to Oknha Huot Vanthan, after provincial authorities informed the villagers that the Supreme Court had ruled against their land claims in 2014.
And on Thursday, residents in Kandal Stung’s Prek Sleng commune who are involved in a separate dispute with Heng Development said they were nearing a resolution, having struck a deal to sell their land to the firm.
Yat said villagers from Ampov Prey were still discussing how much to ask in compensation, but said he heard the land is valued at about $5.50 per square metre.
In the weeks after the government announced the airport, prices on signs throughout the district were asking for between $15 and $30 per square metre.