Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Kandal Residents Protest New Land Filling Near Airport Development

Local security guard photograph a CamboJA journalist as they were covering the protests in Kandal province on June 8, 2023. CamboJA/Pring Samrang
Local security guard photograph a CamboJA journalist as they were covering the protests in Kandal province on June 8, 2023. CamboJA/Pring Samrang

Kandal village residents protested on Thursday against the filling in of land near their homes at the $1.5 billion airport development project, with a company official saying they were only filling the homes of three people who had agreed to leave the site.

Villagers in four communes of Kandal province have been locked in a dispute with construction activity around the Techo Takhmao International Airport, which is being developed by the Pung Khiev Se-owned Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation to serve as Phnom Penh’s new airport.

Around 30 villagers from Ampov Prey village in Kandal Stung district’s Kandork commune said they saw local officials and construction crews filling in land next to a waterbody called Canal 94 on Thursday morning. 

Photos and a video from the protest site show a lineup of local officials and airport company security guards blocking the villagers, as three excavators continued to move land.

As the filling continued, some of which was in the canal itself, village residents said they were worried their homes near the canal could be demolished and filled in as well.

Youn Sreymom, a 49-year-old resident, said she was concerned her house would be demolished if village residents had not intervened.

“I was worried that they would quietly clear my house this morning,” she said. “Fortunately, the villagers came to stop it, otherwise my house might have been demolished.”

She was confused why construction crews were filling the canal because the village was six kilometers away from the airport site.

Kandal villagers fearing demolition of their homes near the new airport development protested in Kandal Stung district on June 8, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Looking on, Som Chanthy, who also lives in the village, said the presence of security personnel and two fire trucks was alarming.

“They brought two fire trucks to shoot water at the people who were watching them nonviolently,” Chanthy said. “It hurts when they do this. It is very unfair to innocent people like us.”

Local authorities also took photos of a CamboJA journalist and their press card at the protest site. The authorities said their “boss” wanted to speak to the journalist, after which the CamboJA staffer had to leave the protest. Two other CamboJA journalists were also unable to reach the protest site.

Chiv Kok Say, who is in-charge of land acquisitions for the new airport project, said the company was only filling in the houses of three families in the village who had agreed to vacate their homes after getting $2,000 each.

“We did not demolish houses of [other] villagers. We filled up the land of families who have already received compensation,” he said during a phone interview.

Kok Say said that there are 14 families living near Canal 94 and that their land was within the company’s development zone.

“We have filled up our land as owners, it did not impact the villagers’ land,” Kok Say said. “We do not know why they came to protest.” 

Asked why construction activity was happening far from the airport site, Kok Say said they were constructing drainage systems around the airport to prevent flooding.

A security guard photographs a CamboJA journalist as they were covering the protests in Kandal province on June 8, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Kandal Stung governor Ouch Saroeun said there were no police or district security guards at the site and he was unaware of how many people were affected by the airport development project.

The development has been very contentious with protests getting violent last year and resulting in the arrest of at least 30 village residents, many of whom claimed to have been beaten by police or said they were detained despite playing no part in the protests.

Officials accused the protesters of being in possession of sticks, stones and slingshots, and said they hurled gasoline and burned tires, photos of which were published by government-aligned Fresh News. Nine protesters were charged with multiple felonies but acquitted by a Kandal court last November.

Kandal villagers fearing demolition of their homes near the new airport development protested in Kandal Stung district on June 8, 2023. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
759 views