The General Department of Prisons (GDP) is planning to establish an ad-hoc working group to cooperate with the Ratanakkiri Provincial Administration to find a solution to a land dispute concerning the provincial prison.

The announcement followed a December report by a local online media outlet on an alleged dispute over the prison’s land, in Village Prampi Makara of Banlung town’s Laban Siek commune.

The lesser-known Life and Sport reported that many families have lived on the vicinity of the prison for between 20 and 30 years but cannot obtain land titles because the land, according to provincial prison chief Ouk Kimchon and his deputy Chom Srey Pich, belongs to the prison.

The report claimed that some people had been arrested following complaints by Kimchon and Srey Pich.

GDP spokesman Nuth Savana said on January 4 that the decision to establish the working group was an easy one, but it may take some time to decide on which procedures it would follow. He did not know the composition of the new group.

“I cannot describe the composition of the group, nor its mechanisms and strategies. It will all depend on the situation on the ground,” he said.

A GDP clarification letter dated January 3 stated that the protection of the state land managed by the provincial prison is the duty of its directors.

“Kimchon and Srey Pich have taken a number of people to court. They have been forced to do so by the unsavory activities of certain individuals, some of whom have used the media to lay baseless allegations,” it added.

“The online reporting relied on one-sided information and offered biased commentary. Alluding to illegal actions by officials is not in accordance with the ethics expected of professional journalists. Provocative, sensationalist reporting like this has the potential to undermine the public’s trust in the GDP management,” it continued.

According to the GDP, the then-Provincial People’s Committee under the People’s Republic of Kampuchea (PRK) regime issued legal title deeds to the prison unit in May 1993.

In 2004, the provincial administration registered the 63,425sqm site as state property. This was recognised by the provincial Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction.

Subsequently, through Sub-Decree No104 issued in May 2011, the prison was moved from Village 3 to Village Prampi Makara in the same commune.

Article 2 of inter-ministerial prakas No5202 dated 31 October 2017 from the Ministry of Interior and the Ministry of Economy and Finance states: “The GDP shall be responsible for registering land titles on the 63,425sqm and three buildings located in Village Prampi Makara in Banlung town’s La Ban Siek commune.