A long-standing land dispute between villagers from Prey Tea I and II villages in Phnom Penh’s Chaom Chao III commune and the Air Defence Battalion Command 91 erupted into a protest on November 8 in front of the Por Sen Chey district hall over the issuance of a land certificate to the military.
Chea Sok, a representative of the protesters, said there are 145 families involved in the land dispute with the military, but due to Covid-19, only about 70 people protested.
He said the villagers decided to protest when they saw a letter from Battalion Command 91 commander Sok Pang requesting a land title for the disputed land. The request was approved by the Por Sen Chey district governor.
“They [district hall] posted a declaration stating that if nobody protested from October 25 to November 8, registration of the disputed land for the military will become official. So, people protested in front of the district hall urging authorities not to register the land,” he said.
Chea Sok claimed that the military had initially borrowed the land from the people, promising to return it to them when the country gained complete peace, but the promise was not made in writing. In 2000, the villagers demanded the land again, but to no avail.
“The military has almost entirely withdrawn its base from the land. But we have seen people build houses there. The military may have sold the land to others so we have been protesting since 2000,” he said.
Men Kim, another village representative, said the military had borrowed more than 9ha from villagers, but so far only about 5ha remained. The area around the base has been subdivided into about 150 plots, with the people living there claiming to be the veterans’ families.
Prey Tea I village chief Moul Samin, who is also the representative of the protesters, said the people were unhappy because the Prime Minister’s Cabinet has approved the allocation of more than 4ha for 145 families in a bid to end the dispute. But the military, Samin claimed, did not implement the decision.
“Residents have documents in their hands to prove their legal rights, including a letter from Deputy Prime Minister Bin Chhin instructing the defence ministry to follow the prime minister’s decision. [Land management minister] Chea Sophara also followed the decision, but still they [military] ignore it. Now, they want to register the land,” she said.
Por Sen Chey district governor Hem Darith confirmed on November 8 that he had signed the declaration but that it did not mean he approved the registration. He said residents have misunderstood it and that he was not in a position to sign the land over to Battalion Command 91 commander Sok Pang.
“We have only signed a notification and not a land title as documentation is still required. Notifications are posted once or twice, so if no one protests, another letter is posted concerning the land size and after that it proceeds to making the land title,” he said.
Sok Pang said on November 8 that the land does not belong to him but the unit. He added that this land dispute has been resolved many times by former municipal governors Chea Sophara and Pa Socheatvong. The current governor, Khuong Sreng, has also tried to resolve the matter.
“I know that the army has the proper documents for the land. As for the people, I do not know where they acquired their documentation. I am a soldier, I respect the ministry, I follow the document,” he said.