Cambodian Journalists Alliance Association

Some 200 Canal 94 Residents Submit Petition to Land Management Ministry, Seek Own Land Titles

Villagers gather at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to submit a petition to cut their land out from airport development and issue land titles, April 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)
Villagers gather at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to submit a petition to cut their land out from airport development and issue land titles, April 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

About 200 residents from Kandal Steung district and Takhmao town submitted a petition to Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Minister Say Sam Al on Monday, urging the government to cut up a piece of land from the Techo Takhmao International Airport project for them, issue land titles and allow them to build on-site.

The petition dated April 1, 2024, was filed by four villages – Ampov Prey, Svay Prey and Royong in Kandork commune, which is within Kandal Steung district, and Ach Kok village in Kampong Samnanh commune in Takhmao town.

They appealed to Sam Al, who is also a deputy prime minister, to take out their land, which is located along Canal 94, from the airport development site so that they can live safely while having a home and participating in the city’s development.

“The reason people are asking to live in this area is because we have all been enjoying and living here for many years, and more importantly, our children can easily go to school. The hospital [is nearby] and [we] can access public services,” they said in the petition.

Three petitions have been submitted to the Kandal provincial hall, with the last one being March 27, 2024, when they sought the authorities’ intervention to put an end to the sand dumping activity by new airport developer, Overseas Cambodia Investment Corp Ltd (OCIC), which also attempted to erect border pillars. Their petition to minister Sam Al is their first.

Sok Chenda, 35, Ampov Prey villager, asked the ministry to issue land title​s and allow them to do on-site development as well as send officers to their village to check on the sand dumping activity behind their houses. 

“We had asked the provincial authorities, but they told us to wait [and would] solve [it] later, but we are afraid they [the company] would continue filling [the canal]. Although they’ve stopped pouring sand [into the canal] for now, [they have] refused to remove it.”

She said she has high hopes that the ministry would provide a solution, given its strong position in the government compared to the provincial hall.

Chenda wondered why they were not affected by development when the road near their houses was in a poor state “but now when there is road development, they [the company and authorities] want people to move away”.

Villagers gather at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction to submit a petition to cut their land out from airport development and issue land titles, April 1, 2024. (CamboJA/Pring Samrang)

Em Vanny​, a 68-year-old fisherfolk, also from Ampov Prey village, was seen sitting in the shade of a palm tree in front of the ministry. She was joined by the other villagers, affected by the land dispute, and who had gathered to hand over the document.

Vanny, who has lived in her village since the fall of Khmer Rouge, refuted claims by the company representatives that the land which has been filled with sand is owned by OCIC and possessed the ownership of the land. 

“What the company representative said is not real because we have lived there since the Khmer Rouge collapsed. The land has been recognized by the local authority. We are the ones taking care of it and have used the land for a long time although there is no title deed,” she said. “So, why is the disputed land unresolved when the company claims that it has a legal title deed. I really don’t understand?”

Another resident, Sem Meas, 56, remarked that in case the authority is not able to give them the land, they should provide a new place with a good infrastructure for the residents. She proposed a piece of land near the pagoda. The government needs to provide sufficient infrastructure including health centers, schools, clean water, and electricity with the proper compensation to them, Meas said. 

“This is our concern. In the past, some families, who accepted the construction, got a little compensation. They are staying temporarily near the airport land but have yet to be transferred to a new place.

“We’re not demanding more construction than [what’s necessary] because we want to get rich. We just want fair and transparent compensation.”

“We protested this morning [Monday], peacefully and without violence. We do not oppose the government’s development but we just want something appropriate for the protracted issue. There has been no solution for a long time,” Meas said.

After nearly an hour of waiting to submit the petition, a representative of the ministry named Sok Yous who failed to provide his designation came to receive the petition. He said the petition would be handed over to the upper officials for review but could not give a specific time for a decision.

Pressed a few times for a confirmation of a specific time for a decision, whether two weeks or a month, Yous only explained that they would receive a response from the ministry.

“Regarding a timeframe, I am not sure yet because we work according to the time of the leaders […] When you come to the ministry, it means that you have come to find a legal solution.

“You must know that you are here to seek justice, so the ministry will deal according to the law. That needs to be understood,” Yous added.

The ministry will start working on it when they receive the petition, pledging that the petition will not be ignored. “Whether or not it’s resolved, the ministry will provide information to the people,” Yous said.

A villager from Ampov Prey, Yun Chanthoun, told a reporter that she felt relieved that the ministry accepted their petition. But, she stressed, assuming the residents do not hear from the ministry after Khmer New Year, the villagers will gather again at the ministry.

“After he [ministry representative] received the petition, we had high hopes because we came here for that,” she said. “After the new year [Khmer New Year], I will contact him. If he does not give me information, or tell us what or when to do, we will come here again,” Chanthoun said outside the ministry.

Meanwhile, Am Sam Ath, operations director of the human rights NGO Licadho, opined that the authorities should immediately resolve the problem as prolonging it will not only impact residents but also Cambodia’s image. 

“I think the relevant authorities and the company should provide appropriate solutions to the residents and expedite the compensation as soon as possible. This can [stop] further impact on them,” he said.

In the past, issues involving the communities have escalated to violent clashes between them and the security, airport representatives and the authorities, he added. As a civil society organization, they did not want to see that happening as it affects the interests of the residents.

“If this problem persists, it will have an impact and the people will lose their trust in the authorities. It will also seriously affect their livelihoods and right to housing. The issue should also be solved to prevent problems when the rainy season arrives.”

According to the United Nations Human Rights Council, human right to adequate housing is the right of every woman, man, youth, and child and for them to sustain a safe home and community in which to live in peace and dignity.

The definition is in line with the core elements of the right to adequate housing as defined by General Comment No. 4 of the United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights.

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