Plans to reclaim state land at the Phnom 1500 eco-tourism site are not for the purpose of granting the land to any private entity, but for the purpose of protecting it for the public interest, explained Minister of Mines and Energy Keo Ratanak, during a meeting, held late last week.

The minister explained that Pursat province’s Phnom (hill) 1500 – named for its elevation, and once described by former Prime Minister Hun Sen as “Bopha Leak Khluon” (hidden flower) – has some of the most stunning views in the Kingdom.

Located in Veal Veng district’s Anlong Reab commune in the Phnom Samkos Wildlife Sanctuary, some 95 families are currently living there illegally. 

In response to requests from members of the public, Prime Minister Hun Manet ordered the land “liberated” from those occupying it, in order to ensure its preservation for future generations.

“People from all across the Kingdom have implored the prime minister to preserve the area as a green space. No one is taking it for their private use … this is not a seizure for any individual, but to fulfil the purpose of conserving it and serving the public interest,” said Ratanak, who also serves as chairman of the Inter-Ministerial Commission to resolve the Phnom 1500 issue. 

He explained that prior to the construction of a road to the top of the hill, nobody lived there at all and only green forests existed.

“The government has never given any of the land at Phnom 1500 to anyone. The provincial authorities and the provincial departments of land and environment have never issued any land titles to any individuals for private ownership,” he said. 

He added that none of the families living at the site have legal proof of ownership. Some of them had produced documents they claimed gave them ownership, but they were in fact documents made between the buyers and sellers, and were not approved by the authorities.

“Some land has been sold by one person to another, but this is illegal to do in a protected area,” he explained.

Even though they are living in the protected area illegally, the head of government had assigned the Inter-Ministerial Commission to resolve the issue. There have been no forced evictions, but officials have clearly explained the illegality of living in the protected area, and warned people that they will not be permitted to do so in the future.

Ratanak led another Inter-Ministerial Meeting at the energy ministry headquarters on May 15 to discuss the issue.

Pursat provincial governor Khoy Rida joined the meeting, as did deputy governor Pov Piseth. Both men declined to comment on the outcome of the meeting, claiming that they were too busy to talk on May 16.