A provincial official in Kampot said Sunday that landless families squatting on a disputed 1,300-hectare area in Chhuk district—the site of a visit by hundreds of student activists Sunday—would be awarded plots of land there.
The hundreds of families living on the site say the area was measured out in 2012—as part of the nationwide land-titling project Prime Minister Hun Sen launched that year—and was meant to be given to them officially, but had since been promised to the families of retired soldiers.
“I came here a long time ago, but the local authorities took my farmland and told me they will offer it to veterans’ families,” said Ly Kimhong, who moved to the area in 2008.
Though the families moved in without paying for the land or acquiring any legal rights, they say the site is rightfully theirs by virtue of the number of years they have lived there.
By law, the families have no legal rights to the area on such grounds. Even so, a group of students from the University Youth Alliance, which advocates for social justice, took their side after visiting the area Sunday.
The alliance’s president, Sam Oeun Dina, said members of the group traveled to the area to investigate after receiving a request for help from the families.
Mr. Oeun Dina said there were 816 families living on the site and accused local authorities of colluding to sell it off to businesspeople, but he could not provide any evidence to support his claim.
Deputy provincial governor Heng Vutha denied both the accusation and the claim that the site was ever measured as part of the prime minister’s land-titling project. He said it was an adjacent plot of land that was actually measured, and accused the 400 families—not 816, as the alliance claims—of squatting on the disputed 1,300 hectares.
Mr. Vutha said the 1,300 hectares had indeed been designated as a social land concession for the families of retired soldiers, but added that the soldiers had yet to move in because the dispute with the squatters was not yet resolved.
Despite their lack of any legal rights to the land, Mr. Vutha said the province would award plots of land inside the 1,300 hectares to any of the squatters found not to have land anywhere else.
“We will offer some land to those families if we find that they don’t have land,” he said.