More than 20 families from Village 1 in Sihanoukville’s Commune 3 are pressing for a solution to their decades-old land dispute after four villagers were detained for obstructing the authorities on Tuesday.
Hang Chenda, a representative of the 24 families, said on Wednesday that the villagers have been locked in a land dispute with a well-connected company since 1998 when former provincial governor Khim Bou sold the 9ha plot to Thai Boon Rong and evicted them.
“They detained us when we stopped them from transporting machinery to the land. The villagers were sitting at the entrance to prevent the truck from getting in."
“They accused us of obstructing public civil servants. They sent the four detainees to the provincial police station and told us to find a lawyer because they decided to charge us for resisting the authorities,” she said.
Chenda claimed the villagers were evicted from their land without any compensation.
“Since then, the company has divided the land into plots and sold it to other people. We’ve filed a complaint to both the provincial court and the Phnom Penh Municipal Court, but there has been no solution or any trial."
“We’ve requested the right to control the land because our land ownership is recognised by former Village 1 chief, though we don’t have a title,” she said, adding the village chief has seen been replaced.
Chenda said the villagers will continue to protest until a solution is reached.
“We have sought intervention from the provincial authorities, the Ministry of National Defence and the courts, but to no avail. There has been no announcement from the government about potential development on the disputed land."
“The land has so far stood idle and only been divided into plots for sale. There have been many Chinese people coming to buy the land,” she said.
Chenda claimed that each of the 24 families owned between 1,500sqm and 2,100sqm of the 9ha plot.
“For now we continue to demand a solution from the government and relevant authorities, whatever it is. If there is none, we will keep protesting on our land,” she said.
Sen Leakhena, one of the detainees, reiterated that the villagers were arrested for preventing the company from bringing machinery in to clear the land.
“They have warned us that if we dare to enter to the land, they will arrest us. They said we have the right to protest, but it has to be in accordance with the law because they hold valid land titles and therefore have the right to develop the land,” she said.
“If there is a proper solution, we will accept it because we might not win the fight to get our land back,” she said.
Sun Sophat, a land community representative in the province, urged authorities to seek a compromise for the 24 families.
“The disputed land originally belonged to them. Provincial authorities have worked out a compromise for other families involved in the same land dispute so they should find a solution for the remaining 20 families too,” he said.
Reached for comment on Wednesday, provincial governor Yun Min said he would elaborate on the case after returning from a mission to Vietnam.
Provincial court spokesman Or Saroeun declined to comment on Wednesday.