The Koh Kong Provincial Court has ordered nine families to dismantle small homes built on state land as part of an ongoing crackdown on settlement in the area.
On Thursday, Koh Kong provincial spokesman Vai Phirum said that the nine families had illegally built huts on state land in Tuol Koki commune. Officials ordered these families to dismantle their structures, Phirum said, and return the land to the provincial administration.
Part of the commune is in the bounds of the Peam Krasop Wildlife Sanctuary, though it wasn’t immediately clear whether the families were living in this protected area.
As a whole, Koh Kong province is the epicenter of a government privatization campaign that was announced last year. This process has cut nearly 127,000 hectares of formerly protected land for distribution mostly to well-connected interests.
Peam Krasop, a marine protected area with an adjacent forest, has lost more than 7,235 hectares, or 28 percent of its total area. Part of that land is in Tuol Koki, according to maps released last year in a government sub-decree.
Locals in the commune told VOD last year that at least 100 hectares of the commune belong to Cambodia’s navy commander, while other wealthy individuals hold other tracts of land there. Civil society groups expected land disputes to rise after the announcement of the mass-privatization of protected areas in Koh Kong, particularly given the often-opaque nature of land redistribution in Cambodia.
In the case of Tuol Koki commune, Phirum added that relevant authorities have already cracked down on illegal construction of huts on state land in the area twice already. Officials took two people to court over land issues, he said, and several others escaped.
Phirum called on people to stop encroaching on state land illegally, otherwise they would face legal action.
“The encroachment on state land [they] will be confronting with the law because they did not have the facts of occupation from the beginning, when they encroach state land as [personal] property, it is illegal,” said Phirum.
VOD could not reach the nine families for comment Thursday morning.