The Apsara Authority on Sunday defended itself against accusations that it deliberately excluded more than 50 families from a deal to receive a portion of the authority’s land in Siem Reap City’s Ampil commune they claim was granted to them by Prime Minister Hun Sen.
While visiting the city during the Khmer New Year holiday in April, Mr. Hun Sen announced that some 1,000 families locked in a 20-year-old land dispute with the Apsara Authority—the government body tasked with overseeing the Angkor Archaeological Park—would be granted part of the disputed 1,070-hectare plot.
The prime minister’s speech was swiftly followed by two sub-decrees: one granting 115 hectares to families in Slakram commune and another awarding 111 hectares to those in Ampil commune.
Last month, however, more than 50 families in Ampil who assumed they were among those that would receive part of the 111 hectares were disabused of that notion when local authorities destroyed a tent they had erected to celebrate the deal and informed them that they were on the Apsara Authority’s land.
In a four-page statement on Sunday, the authority said local media had unfairly accused the body of ignoring Mr. Hun Sen’s orders by excluding those families from the agreement.
“The public news that says the Apsara Authority did not implement the government’s sub-decrees…is not true, ” the statement said.
According to a map included in the statement, the 50-plus families live neither in Ampil nor Slakram commune, but rather in Nokor Thom commune’s Anh Chanh village, which is not mentioned in the sub-decrees.
Contacted Monday, Ampil commune chief Heang Sary claimed that the authority had redrawn the borders of Ampil and Nokor Thom communes in order to keep the plot for itself.
“They claim the people are located in Anh Chanh village because it is easier to grab the villagers’ land,” said Mr. Sary, a member of the opposition Sam Rainsy Party.
According to Mr. Sary, 25 families in his commune have been publicly feuding with the Apsara Authority over the land, but a total of 50 to 60 families had been living in the area since the early to mid-1990s.
“The accusations from the authorities that they live illegally on the land are not true,” he said. “The Apsara Authority evicted the people like Pol Pot did.”
“Samdech [Hun Sen] granted the land to the villagers, but when Samdech left, no one respected his speech,” he added. “If Samdech’s remarks are not obeyed, who do they respect?”
Chau Sun Kerya, a spokeswoman for the Apsara Authority, said that before the authority built a road through the area in 2000, no families lived there.
“But after we were done, they came,” she said.