Officials are negotiating cash compensation for hundreds of villagers in Kandal province who will likely be displaced to make way for a massive airport project.
Villagers and officials met at Kandal Stung District Hall yesterday to discuss the land dispute, one of several that have erupted in the area since the government announced the 2,600-hectare mixed-use development in January.
Bun Theng, head of the district council, asked residents to cooperate with village and commune officials as they gather information about the land’s history.
“When we get surveying done and agree on the principles, we will invite the partner to participate to distribute the money,”
Theng said. “The partner has to prepare the money in order to solve this dispute.”
About 300 area families are locked in a land dispute with Oknha Seang Chanheng and her company Heng Development, which they say stole land from people who have been farming in the area since the 1980s and ’90s.
Chanheng denied yesterday that she was the “partner” mentioned by local officials, who declined to name the person offering the compensation, but repeatedly referred to her as a woman with numerous charitable causes.
Read more: Will huge new airport planned for Kandal see locals stripped of land?
Chanheng makes frequent trips to the provinces to donate cash and goods to monks and villagers, often exhaustively documented on her Facebook page.
The dispute between Chanheng and the villagers goes back over a decade, but flared up again after the airport project was announced. The Post revealed in a story last month the complex history of the land, as well as the criminal background of Chanheng, who was previously convicted of forging land titles in Kampong Chhnang.
The company developing the airport project, the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation, could not be reached yesterday. Previously, a representative said it had purchased the majority of the land for the project from Heng Development Company.
Village representative Oeung Sary said villagers decided to find “middle ground” with the company and authorities yesterday.
“Now, they can do whatever they want on the land,” said Sary, who is one of six protesters summoned by Military Police last month after they blocked Heng Development bulldozers from digging on the disputed land. “We just wait to get the money.”
Sary said that villagers were unconcerned about who the “partner” is as long as they receive compensation.
Officials didn’t say how much money the unnamed firm would offer. Local landowners told The Post in January that land prices soared to $150,000 to $300,000 per hectare after the airport announcement. In the mid-’90s, when Chanheng supposedly purchased the land, prices hovered between $250 and $400 per hectare, villagers said.
Theng, the district council chief, warned villagers to accept the cash rather than continue to claim the land, deeming their ownership claims “impossible” even if their ancestors were buried there. “Someone already has land titles for that land,” Theng said. “If you continue to claim it, you will break your head.”
District Governor Bou Nareth said that officials hope to solve the dispute “as soon as possible, because the company wants it to be quick, while the people want it to be quick too”. “If we can be done this week, it would be better,” Nareth said.
Additional reporting by Daphne Chen