Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Prek Takong Villagers Fear Losing Land Following Expiration Of A Land Lease Contract

Villagers taking fragments of rocks and bricks to fill the canal after the trucks they hired to fill a temporary sewage canal were blocked by the Meanchey authority, January 24, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Villagers taking fragments of rocks and bricks to fill the canal after the trucks they hired to fill a temporary sewage canal were blocked by the Meanchey authority, January 24, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Twenty five families in Prek Takong 1 village of Chak Angreleu commune are concerned about losing their plots of land, which were rented out to the Meanchey district authority to build a temporary sewage canal. However, the six-month tenancy agreement beginning March 2023 has expired and the authorities have yet to return the land to them.

The villagers said although the land lease contract with the authority has passed its due date, the latter have neither shown a willingness to return the land nor mentioned the exact date for the completion of the sewerage project. The villagers claimed that they need those plots back to build their houses as they are spending a lot renting houses at the moment.

Prek Takong community of about 200 low income families is located in the southern part of Phnom Penh. They are among 240 families who, in 2018, were allocated 56,258 square meters of land by the government based on the actual number of people living there since 1979.

One of the landowners, Mom Savuth, said he was disappointed with the authorities and has lost faith in them because they are not willing to solve the issue or return the land to the villagers.

“I want the district authorities to clarify the duration of their project on the land. We want authorities to accelerate it as it has taken a long time,” said Savuth.

If the authorities have not finished their project on the land, they should at least inform the villagers and sign a new contract, Savuth remarked. But, till now, he has not received any information from the authorities, hence their concern. 

“We are worried about losing our land as they are not giving us any clear answers. In the beginning, we trusted them but we no longer do as they are being irresponsible with their work,” he added.

So, on January 21, the villagers gathered at the canal and hired trucks to dump soil and rocks to fill it up. Unfortunately for them, the local authorities blocked the trucks from entering the village. Due to that, the landowners decided to lug bags of rocks, bricks and sand from the trucks to manually fill the canal.

“We submitted a petition to the city hall as the district authorities did not give us a solution; they only threatened us. So, we carried bags of rocks and bricks ourselves from the trucks after the authorities stopped them from entering the village,” Savuth said.

Svay Sokunthy, another landowner, wants the authorities to clarify the leasing contract and set an exact date as the landowners want the land back to build their houses. She said the authorities should act responsibly with the people as the contract ended months ago. 

“They said if the project cannot be completed in one year it will continue to the second year. They say this as if they are the landowners”. 

According to her, the villagers were cooperative with the local authorities for the development but the latter did not offer proper solutions as requested by the people. She said currently she earns on a daily basis, and even if she wanted to take a loan from the bank, she has no collateral as her land is within the project site. 

“Why are they stressing the villagers? The company that is implementing the project has not done any concrete research. We need to run our business too. We need a solution for our family as we do not want to [continue] renting houses.”

Villagers taking fragments of rocks and bricks to fill the canal after the trucks they hired to fill a temporary sewage canal were blocked by the Meanchey authority, January 24, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Villager So Riny said, on Sunday, the district governor was there when the authorities stopped the trucks loaded with rock and brick fragments, and soil from entering the village, but he did not provide an alternative solution.

Riny mentioned that the authorities do not have a clear stand on solving the issue for the people who are affected by the drainage project in Boeung Choeung Ek lake.

“The new deputy governor said he knows nothing. I can [also] see he has no solution.”

When contacted by phone, Prek Takong 1 village chief Long Heun said he was in a meeting and disconnected the line.

Meanchey district deputy governor Keo Samnang told CamboJA that he visited the site on Sunday and reported to the district governor but declined to share what the solution was.

“The district governor told me that he would report to higher officials and come up with a solution for the people with City Hall.”

City Hall spokesperson Meth Meas Pheakdey could not be reached for comment. 

Last December, Sahmakum Teang Tnaut organization published a report entitled “Environmental issue and Poor Community” which found that poor communities faced challenges such as the right to participate in Environmental Impact Assessments, climate change, waste management and noise. 

CCHR human rights coordinator Vann Sophat said local authorities should resolve the land leasing issue for the sake of the villagers, following the end of the contract. And, if the contract is not respected by the company, the authorities should take legal action. 

“The authorities and the company must take responsibility for the case and comply with the contract. Villagers also have a right to submit a complaint against them. Another mechanism is to solve the issue outside the judicial system.”

According to the land lease contract, the restoration of the drainage system spans 8,668 meters from the reservoir in Boeng Choeung Ek lake, covering 656,065 square meters. While the restoration takes place, a temporary sewage canal is necessary to channel the sewage to another site.

The drainage restoration project, supported by JICA, is being implemented by Active Property (Cambodia) Co Ltd over an area measuring 19 hectares that is a part of Boeng Choeung Ek reservoir.

JICA did not respond to questions via email by the publication time. 

Meanwhile, Sophat viewed that the authorities have to take a proactive approach in solving people’s issues otherwise their good governance ranking will drop. In addition, many problem-solving mechanisms do not work. 

“Currently, there is a conflict between land dispute solution mechanisms and good governance on land issues as no one is in control of it. So, people have no choice but to ask for help from the authorities.”