Around 80 people gathered on Sunday near a portion of land that has been allotted for Phnom Penh’s new Techo Takhmao International Airport, currently under construction, calling for authorities to expedite a settlement process, according to a community representative.
The protesters were residents of Ampov Prey village in Ampov Prey commune, Kandal Steung district in Kandal province, where over 400 families have been affected by the airport construction project, says the representative Phouk Phanny.
“The community hasn’t seen the authorities invite the people’s representatives to meetings as promised,” he said. “Because they have been waiting for a long time but there has been no solution, the people decided to gather in the rice fields again on Sunday peacefully.”
The Cambodian government approved plans for the new airport in 2018. A 2020 sub-decree granted around 2,600 hectares of land in Kandal and Takeo provinces to the Cambodia Airport Investment Company for a new airport, a joint project of the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation and the government’s State Secretariat for Civil Aviation. Villagers have protested for years in pursuit of better compensation for the land they lost due to the project.
Phanny emphasised that the protest Sunday did not intend to “incite,” and instead was a peaceful gathering of people upset with the situation. He recognizes that development, such as the construction of an airport, is important for the next generation, but asks for a transparent solution from authorities. Phanny wants the villagers to receive a land title for 83 hectares of land they have used since 1984.
“We demand proper compensation negotiations, because this issue has continued for five years, and people have already tried to file a petition with the relevant ministries,” Phanny said.
Kandal Steung district governor Ouch Sao Voeun said the land the villagers are demanding compensation for is already owned by a resident of Phnom Penh, who received compensation and complied with government policies.
“I do not know what they were protesting about this Sunday, I just know that during the last meeting at the district hall, they demanded compensation,” he said.
Run Sophea, a farmer who attended the protest, disagrees that a Phnom Penh resident owns the land: “We are the owners from this district who have been farming on this land since 1984. Landowners do not get compensation on their own land.”
She wants stakeholders, including Prime Minister Hun Manet, to expedite the settlement process and solve the problem for her community.
“After the authorities made promises, there has been no information regarding a solution,” she said. “We are worried.”
After the protest, Kandal Provincial governor Kong Sophorn and community representative Phanny met on Sunday. Sophorn said he explained the legal procedures to Phanny, adding that he is waiting for experts to complete research and provide an evaluation on the land issue in this case.
“This work requires time for experts to learn more about the land and collect research and data,” Sophorn said, echoing comments made by the district governor about the situation five months ago.
Phanny said Sophorn told him he would work to solve the problem, but did not provide a specific timeline for when it would be resolved.
According to a July 5 letter from the Ministry of Interior, reviewed by CamboJA News, the ministry asked the provincial governor to follow the law and solve the issue regarding two plots of land in the area, one 83 hectare plot and another 23 hectare area.
Chiv Kok Say with the Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation, who is in charge of land acquisitions for the airport, told CamboJA News on Wednesday that the small portion of unresolved land is residential and farmland.
“We have settled with them [residents] in many places. About 5% [of the land] has not been settled yet,” he said.
When asked how many hectares of land had yet to be resolved and owners compensated, he said he could not tell the reporter.
He said the issue for these villagers may be that they already sold their land in the past and therefore will not receive compensation. “But if they have a hard land title we will deliver the compensation according to the company policy,” he said.
Many Cambodians, especially those in the provinces, do not have hard land titles granted by the national government and the current titling processes have failed to reach all Cambodians.
Am Sam Ath, operations director of the human rights NGO Licadho, said that his organisation wants to see the settlement process completed as soon as possible to solve this problem for those with affected land.
“In the past we have seen protests, threats of violence [from authorities] leading to arrests, which is not a good picture for our society,” he said. “We want to see the authorities rush to solve this problem to avoid affecting the lives of people.”