CORRECTED June 20—Villagers in Siem Reap’s Senchey village have alleged collusion between soldiers and local officials to grab their land under the guise of a conservation area.
San Sith, a landholder in the village, told VOD on Tuesday that about 200 families had been involved in a land dispute for more than a decade with the Royal Cambodian Army’s Region 4 forces, a division covering Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom.
Sith accused the soldiers of threatening people to prevent them from using or working on the disputed land, which is located in Kantuot commune of Svay Loeu district. The commune includes parts of both Phnom Kulen National Park and Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, but the disputed area is in neither.
Sith said that after people filed a complaint with the Siem Reap Provincial Court and Appeal Court in Battambang, local authorities claimed the land is no longer involved with the soldiers. Authorities then turned to accuse people of working on land in the “Chob Som Nature Protection Area.”
Sith claimed this conservation community area was created by authorities just earlier this year. He suspected the aim of the area’s demarcation was to establish official control of the land in order to take it.
“The [conservation area] was just immediately created, and they used the name of it to mistreat people,” Sith said. “First, they moved to create a community for the people and then, they mistreated the people and made people make contracts to ask for land from the community to work.”
“I did not follow because if I do this, that will become the [conservation] community land,” he said, adding that he and others will file an official complaint against the area.
Local authorities turned down interview requests with VOD.
Both Senchey village chief Phan Phal and the new commune chief, who only gave his name as Chheang, told VOD that they were busy and couldn’t talk.
Soeun Tou, the chief of nearby Kulen Prom Tep Wildlife Sanctuary, demanded a VOD reporter submit a letter for an interview.
Nhem Phalla, another villager of Senchey, claimed that his family controlled and worked on nearly 10 hectares of land since 2000. On that land, Phalla said they grew mango trees, jackfruits, bananas and other crops.
Phalla said the conservation community was created by local authorities and other officials, but said its managing committee is made up of officials. He said there is no participation from ordinary people.
“I think the authorities are doing wrong. Before, if they helped people to protest in that area, there would not be any problem to be solved. We have houses and crops like jackfruit, mango trees, coconut trees, and have been getting their fruits for many years already.”
Koh Kong Villagers Protest Criminal Charges
A long-simmering land dispute in Koh Kong province pitching local villagers against the tycoon Heng Huy led to a Tuesday protest over the questioning of a community representative for criminal defamation and incitement charges.
According to a community representative named Ip Toeng, a crowd of about 200 people gathered Tuesday at the Koh Kong Provincial Court to support one of their peers, Deth Huor. The dispute in Sre Ambel district stems from 2007, when villagers from the communes of Chi Khor Loeu and Chi Khor Krom allege the tycoon Huy encroached on their land.
Representatives of the villagers say the dispute affects 197 households. Affected villagers have for years protested the alleged encroachment, including through protests in Phnom Penh starting in 2019. The villagers have implored the Ministry of Land Management to intervene in the dispute, but it has not taken action.
Koh Kong provincial deputy prosecutor Eng Chandara had set the date for Huor’s summons for questioning more than a month prior, on May 10. Huor, from Tany village, was to be questioned under the charges of incitement and public defamation, based on a complaint from the tycoon and a Koh Kong provincial police official.
The complaint names nine representatives of the villagers, including Huor and Toeng, as well as Kirt Nov, In Thou, Kong Men and three others.
Toeng said on Tuesday that her peer Huor had done nothing wrong, and that it was Huy who was responsible for the dispute. The tycoon has denied this, saying he obtained land only through legal measures.
Correction, June 20: The Senchey village landholder’s name is San Sith, not San Sarith as originally reported.