Some 100 Preah Sihanouk villagers protested in support of six families whose land is being claimed by Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nephew, as the nephew said he had a legal title to the land while the local commune chief said he didn’t know how Hun Chea had obtained it.
Khim Lida, a representative for the protesters, said Chea and businessman Ly Songim had claimed the land earlier this year, and overnight Friday, Songnim got workers to set up temporary homes on the 20-hectare plot in Prey Nob district’s Bit Traing commune.
“He secretly transported mobile houses at night and put them on people’s land, and people were not satisfied. They gathered to protest and helped to stand as witnesses for six families because they are not satisfied with such abuses,” Lida said.
Bit Traing commune has been riddled with disputes in recent years, as parts of it have been carved up among a web of connected individuals such as National Police chief Neth Savoeun, Telecommunications Minister Chea Vandeth and the daughter of CPP senator Ly Yong Phat.
Chea — the son of Hun Sen’s older brother Hun San, who was previously jailed in 2000 as a 24-year-old, again in 2002, and in 2018, all for shooting up a karaoke room, a beer garden and an unspecified location near his house, respectively — told VOD on Friday that his company legally owned several plots of land in the area.
He did not say when his land titles were obtained, but said they ranged in size from 20 to 50 hectares.
He had asked for a meeting with local residents who only had certificates — and not titles — to the land, but they had not agreed to meet, Chea added.
“The land belongs to my company legally. I have a set of documents and formal land titles. The other party, according to the information [I have], I know they only have a piece of measurement paper. I have asked the authorities to call the involved person to show me the documents. That person has always evaded and refused to come in, but they went to inspire people to come and cause a mess,” Chea said.
Bit Traing commune chief Meach Chan said he did not know how both the families and Chea and Songim had obtained land titles in the area, which was designated as a state forestry area in 2002.
Commune authorities had tried to mediate between residents and the businessmen, but had sent the case to the district after being unable to reach an agreement, Chan said.
“But to put it bluntly, all of their land is in the 2002 forest cover,” he said.
Preah Sihanouk provincial administration spokesperson Kheang Phearum said he had not received a report on the land dispute.
Cheap Sotheary, Sihanoukville coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, said that according to her research, people have been living in the disputed area for many years.
In 2014, the provincial administration measured and allocated land from the forestry area to residents living there, she said. The conflict only emerged this year, she added.
“Local authorities involved in this matter should summon the other party to file documents for discussion. Do not conduct any activity yet that leads to conflicts. And now that Covid is happening, we should talk peacefully. If we cannot negotiate, cannot agree, then we will go to court,” Sotheary said.
A community leader in the area, Sun Sophat, said local authorities had measured the disputed land for the six families and given them documents confirming ownership. He said it was unclear how Chea’s associate Songim had bought the land. Songim could not be reached for comment on Friday.