‘Simple Person’ Granted 451 Hectares of Siem Reap State Forest

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Rice fields and irrigation canals outside Siem Reap city on October 31, 2020. (Danielle Keeton-Olsen/VOD)

A “simple person” with two villas and an estimated tens of millions of dollars worth of land in Siem Reap forest has been granted 451 hectares of state land, according to a government document and local commune chiefs.

Prom Vy is about 60 years old and has been buying land from people in the area since about 2005, said Sotr Nikum district’s Chansar commune chief Suon Sinith.

“I’ve asked people, what is his [official] position? And they say he has no position,” Sinith said. “He only buys the land.”

Vy lives in Phnom Penh but comes to Siem Reap to guard his land, Sinith added.

Popel commune chief Som Orb said Vy had two villas in his commune. “He goes back and forth to Phnom Penh and he has his houses and buys land.”

“He is a simple person,” Orb said. “His clothes are simple.”

Asked whether the man could be a police officer or soldier, Orb said: “I don’t know that either, but he has short and long guns in his cars, but he never shows off to others.”

However, the commune chief said Vy was a member of the ruling party’s provincial working group, and when it came to land, he was a “super tycoon.”

A sub-decree dated April and released this month grants 451.27 hectares in the two communes from areas marked as state forest since 2002. The decree says the land is being transferred as Vy “is the actual owner.”

The government is in the midst of a massive land redistribution campaign to privatize protected areas where people are already living. Prime Minister Hun Sen has explained the campaign as providing for poor families by granting them official land titles.

Orb said Vy likely had 2,000 to 3,000 hectares in the Siem Reap forest area, and land prices had risen there from around $1,000 or less per hectare to between $100,000 and $300,000 per hectare.

But much of the forest had already been cleared long ago by residents, he said. “They’ve cleared it all. It exists only as a shadow.”

Some of Vy’s plots were near Siem Reap’s under-construction, $880-million new airport, Orb added. “Most of the land there belongs to powerful people.”

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