Representatives of some 73 families in Kep town expressed outrage Tuesday over a plan by the municipality to reclaim the land where they live as state property.
Many of the families, numbering more than 500 people, have lived in the 1 hectare-area for at least a decade, said Ith Thoun, a resident who spoke on behalf of the families. The contested area includes an old casino, built during then-Prince Norodom Sihanouk’s Sangkum Reastr Niyum regime of the late-1950s and 1960s.
“We disagree with the municipality’s plan,” Ith Thoun said Tuesday. “There is no reason to evacuate us from here.”
Municipal officials visiting the area announced by loudspeaker Tuesday that Kep authorities were registering the land as state property, officials and residents said.
Residents were told they had until Aug 23 to launch a complaint with the municipality, but were given no guarantees that they would receive titles for the land they occupied, officials and residents said.
Kep authorities, however, said they intend only to survey and register the land as state property and had no plans to push the families off the property. “We do not chase the people [away],” Kep District Governor Chan Samin said. “We will just measure the land and let the government decide [what to do with] it.”
Kep municipal governor Soem Son added that the municipality wanted to reclaim the land to ensure “it belongs to the people” and to properly govern the area.
“We do not want [residents] to be in turmoil or confused by moving them away,” he said.
Still, residents and human rights groups said they were concerned about the possible long-term plans for the area. “We are worried that they will chase the people away from the casino land after they measure it,” said Ly Chhoun, coordinator for human rights group Adhoc, on Monday. Kep, once a popular seaside resort town, has again become a favored tourist destination in recent years.