Siem Reap Land Disputants Sue Environment Officers for Pole Demolition

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A photo of park rangers removing fence posts from around long-standing villagers’ land in an alleged new land area called Chom Sob Nature Protection Area on June 14, 2022. (Provided)
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Village residents in Siem Reap have sued four environment department officials for alleged destruction of property and encroachment, an allegation made last week against them and military officers. 

Around 200 villagers from Siem Reap’s Senchey village have been involved in a land dispute for more than a decade with Royal Cambodian Army’s Region 4 forces, a division covering Siem Reap, Oddar Meanchey, Preah Vihear and Kampong Thom.

San Sith, a village representative, said last week soldiers and local officials were preventing residents from using the land by accusing them of encroaching on land when in the “Chob Som Nature Protection Area,” which he said was only created earlier this year.

On Friday, Sith said he had sued four environmental officials — Huot To, Sao Khean, Siem Ponn, and Hor Siveng — for removing fencing around his land. He said the fenced-off land belonged to him for the last decade and claimed it was recognized by local officials and that he had paperwork for the land. 

“I have all permissions to clear the land, [have a] land title and a request to do agricultural work. But I don’t understand why they destroyed my belongings. I have the proper paperwork. So, I sued in court today,” he said on Friday.

Soeun To, a chief of Kulen Prum Tep Wildlife Sanctuary which is adjacent to the disputed land, asked VOD to submit a letter to the environment department and the ministry before he would answer questions.

According to a report from the Svay Loeu district governor last week, the four park rangers and other local authorities cleared around 60 poles from land in the village and found that community land was fenced off and claimed by Sith.

Phan Phal, Senchey village chief, said only about 40 families from Senchey were involved in the dispute. He said some people had illegally encroached on the protected land, which also admitted that some had legitimate claims to the disputed land.

“People came to use the land in the community because they did not know that this forest was registered as community land since Samdech Sihanouk [King father] was still alive,” he said.

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