Families Dispute Court Order in Clash-Ridden Preah Sihanouk District

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A scuffle over a land dispute breaks out in Preah Sihanouk province’s Prey Nob district on December 20, 2020, in photos posted to the district police Facebook page.

A petition from 258 families asks the Justice Ministry to intervene after the Preah Sihanouk Provincial Court ordered a halt to constructions and sales on more than 200 hectares of land claimed by several different parties.

The land is in Prey Nob district, where a violent clash in December led to an investigation of Brigade 70 deputy head Phoeun Phalla. The land is variously claimed by Phalla; a group of 28 individuals who were the primary target of the court order; the 258 petitioning families; and Fu Hai Investment, which formally received 25 hectares of state forest land in Bit Traing commune’s Kokir village earlier in December.

Justice Ministry spokesperson Chin Malin said he had not seen the petition yet, but the ministry would not be intervening.

“Under the legal process, the Justice Ministry has no authority to intervene or invalidate the court’s decision. When they are not satisfied with a court decision, they can file an appeal,” Malin said.

Fu Hai could not be reached for comment.

Duong Sibonthol, a representative for the 258 families, said people were continuing to live on the land despite the escalating dispute.

Residents’ houses had been knocked down without their consent, and new arrivals were trying to claim their property, Sibonthol said.

“People who live there have been asking to be connected to electricity — they have never been allowed to, but the powerful were able to do it,” he said.

According to the court order, dated September, the 28 individuals were banned from selling, transferring, renting, removing earth, making fences or constructing small or large buildings on 213 hectares in Kokir village.

The 258 families’ petition, meanwhile, asks the Justice Ministry to investigate “the truth of the story that led to the dispute.”

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