Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng has proposed the establishment of a village and the construction of roads for the people living on a disputed land plot in Kulen Promtep Wildlife Sanctuary in Preah Vihear province’s Choam Ksan district.
Metre Pheap received approval for an agro-industry concession last year to farm animals on 8,520ha for 50 years, causing territorial issues with some 300 families.
In January, at least 14 people were arrested for allegedly encroaching on the disputed plot.
During an inter-ministerial meeting to review the result of an investigation into the ongoing dispute, Sar Kheng – who is also the Minister of Interior – proposed the establishment of a village and construction of roads for “the landless people who occupy the plot” in a bid to solve the problem altogether.
Khieu Sopheak, the spokesperson for the Interior Minister, quoted Sar Kheng as saying that the minister would like the directive to be implemented and the legal proceedings against the detained individuals to be continued.
“Sar Kheng will request the government to grant the plot to the villagers who have been occupying it, but he urged the authorities to ascertain that their identities are clear and accurate. This will ensure that those villagers, in fact, do not own plots,” Sopheak said.
He said the authorities would issue a land certificate for each family and make sure that they would not be able to encroach on other plots elsewhere.
Choam Ksant district governor Chea Kim Seng said on Wednesday that only some 100 families lived on the disputed plot legally.
“The other 400 just came from other provinces and claimed that those plots belonged to them. We already reported this to the provincial authority and the ministry of interior,” Kim Seng said.
In regards to the 14 detainees, the former president of the Democratic Republic Party, Sokrath Sovann Panhchakseila, and an accomplice were also arrested in April.
Sopheak said the two had “incited others to encroach on community land and start violence” during an April 9 protest where some 100 people demanded the release of the 14 villagers.
Later that month, the Preah Vihear provincial court said they would release the 14 detainees on bail.
However, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc Lor Chan said on Wednesday that only four of them had been freed recently.