Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Eighty Choeung Ek Commune Residents Compel Phnom Penh City Hall Again For Land Titles

Villagers from Daun Ov community, Choeung-Ek commune, Dangkor district gather in front of the Phnom Penh City Hall to ask for their land titles on May 6, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Villagers from Daun Ov community, Choeung-Ek commune, Dangkor district gather in front of the Phnom Penh City Hall to ask for their land titles on May 6, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

About 80 Daun Ov community residents living in Choeung Ek commune, Dangkor district gathered in front of the Phnom Penh City Hall again to submit a petition requesting land titles, as they are being threatened by a company which has been pouring sand into a lake near their homes since 2020. The villagers, who were at the City Hall on Monday, represented 101 families.

In the last four years, no solution has been given even though villagers continuously called and went in person to follow up on their previous petition with several government agencies including the City Hall and District Hall. 

According to a statement dated December 23, 2020, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction ordered the Phnom Penh governor to review and resolve the request made by 56 families.

The statement, viewed by the reporter, mentioned that the families had applied for land titles to live in the Daun Ov community, Group 3, Choeung Ek commune, Dangkor district, Phnom Penh, where they have lived since 1982.

Vong Theary, 35, who was waiting for her community representative outside the hall, said she has been living in Choeung Ek commune since she was born.

She joined the gathering to request the City Hall to accelerate their resolution and give a clear timeframe as they have been going to the office often, the last visit being February 2023.

“I came here to ask them to speed up and set a specific time for us. We did not want to come here, but when we called them, their response wasn’t clear. They told us to go this way and that way. They didn’t have a solution for us,” Theary said.

She was concerned why “others who came after her community can receive land titles with a large area” but not for those in her community who have lived in that land for many years. Some of them only have a small amount of land. For instance, her land size is only four meters wide and seven meters long.

Theary shared that the lake filling has affected her business and her children’s education. They were previously told that if they can live with the sand, then they can remain there.

“How can I live there if they pour sand around? Whether it rains or not, it floods, and doing business becomes harder. The worst thing is the safety of my children when they go to school.” “ The electric wire runs underneath. When the water rises, others have boats to go across. But I don’t have a boat, so my children have to walk through the water to go to school.” 

“That is why we came to ask them to solve the problem because my villagers find it very difficult to do business and our children’s​ education is affected,” she added. 

Her community is also not able to make a family book yet. They were promised one if they accepted relocation. In the meantime, their current area lacks infrastructure such as drainage systems, water and electricity. She pays 1,500 riel per kilowatt to a private company which supplies electricity.

Villagers from Daun Ov community, Choeung-Ek commune, Dangkor district gather in front of the Phnom Penh City Hall to ask for their land titles on May 6, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

After an hour of meeting with Phnom Penh City Hall officials, all five Daun Ov community representatives walked across the road to speak to their members who were waiting at a park to share the outcome of the discussion.

A community representative, An Sokhim, 29, who has lived in the community for 10 years after buying the land from another person said she was not happy with the outcome. She said it was the same answer, with the officials saying that they will have a meeting on Tuesday.

“When we came to see the documents previously, they told us they will hold a meeting,” she said. “This time [again] they said a meeting will be held, so it seems that there is no progress at all,” she said.

Sokhim said the officers should decide when the land title will be given after their meeting. “How many more days, how many months?” she asked.

Meanwhile, Songheng Vireakboth, urban planning officer at Phnom Penh City Hall told CamboJA on Monday afternoon that the officials will hold a meeting to discuss the case on Tuesday. However, when asked to provide a specific time as to when they can give an answer to the community, he said he was not sure yet. 

Licadho rights group operation director, Am Sam Ath, urges the relevant authorities to consider providing title deeds to the residents. People who live and enjoy a piece of land for years should be considered first before land ownership to the private sector is approved.

“Even if they live on state land illegally, if the state can hand over ownership to the private sector, their first point of consideration should be the people who have lived there for a long time,” said Sam Ath.