Thousands of families living on state land near Sihanoukville’s Kbal Chhay waterfall will be granted official land titles, two years after authorities threatened the forceful eviction of some residents, officials said on Thursday.
The falls—one of only two fresh water sources for the city—will be penned in by a canal to prevent sprawl beyond a 400-hectare plot, said Chhit Sophat, the chief of Muoy commune.
“Right now we are digging a canal to surround the area to prevent people from continuing to clear land,” he said. “We need to protect that area in order to supply clean water for Sihanoukville.”
In November 2014, dozens of police, military police, soldiers and Forestry Administration officials descended on the area above the waterfall to remove 40 of 139 illegal shacks built on state land. But a deadline for the removal of “new” residents—those who had been there less than four months—passed with no action taken.
Now, there are 2,000 families living on the site, Mr. Sophat said, adding that the government had yet to decide how much land it would provide to each.
Deputy provincial governor Chhin Seng Ngoun said the families would be given land “because authorities believe they have been living there for a long time.”
“The authorities are preparing to demarcate plots of land for villagers and provide them with land titles,” he said.
Khat Lina, 29, an area resident since 2011, said her family had been “evicted a few times already” and would accept the land they are granted. Prior to the government plan, “we did not have legal rights on our land,” Ms. Lina said.
Lun Sotin, 36, who moved to the area in 2010, welcomed the decision, but would not accept a resolution that reduced her existing plot.
“I heard the provincial authorities promised to provide us 5-by-15-meter plots. I will not accept this because my current land is 20-by-20 meters,” she said.
The waterfall is both a popular tourist site and a key resource for Sihanoukville, which saw some areas go without water for five days in April 2013 when the city’s second fresh water source, Prek Tup Lake, went dry.