Prime Minister Hun Sen on Tuesday ordered that nearly 3,300 hectares of land in Siem Reap province’s Banteay Srei district should be allocated to villagers and military personnel living on it rather than be reclaimed by the state, officials said Tuesday.
Hun Sen informed provincial officials of his decision Tuesday, saying the land had been used by the villagers and by RCAF Battalion 4 for many years, Siem Reap provincial Governor Sou Phirin said.
“We immediately went to the disputed land to meet the villagers and RCAF personnel about Samdech Hun Sen’s order,” Sou Phirin said.
“The villagers will receive the land, although we are not yet clear on how many families are involved,” he said. Vann Sophanna, head of the Forestry Administration’s Northern Tonle Sap Inspectorate, said that the land had been at the center of a legal dispute with the Forestry Administration.
The administration had complained in June to Siem Reap Provincial Court arguing that the land, covering three communes in Banteay Srei district, belonged to the state.
On May 6, the court ruled in favor of the Forestry Administration and ordered villagers to cease clearing the land and to vacate it along with Battalion 4, Vann Sophanna said.
The prime minister’s order reversed this decision, Sou Phirin said.
State-run television station TVK on Tuesday morning quoted Hun Sen as saying that he issued the order following complaints from villagers.
In November, the government released a report detailing encroachment on more than 200,000 hectares of state-owned forested land in the previous year and concluded that most was being carried out by land speculators. The worst-affected provinces were Siem Reap, Kompong Speu and Banteay Meanchey.
Banteay Srei district Deputy Governor Phath Saran said provincial and forestry officials have decided to set aside 1,190 hectares, or 37 percent of the land, for Battalion 4, where 245 soldiers and their families have been living since 2000.
The number of villagers involved is not yet known, said Phath Saran, though he added that he is currently drawing up a list. Their share of the land has yet to be decided on.
“Although those villagers have not received any land resolution, they are allowed to continue planting crops until a resolution is found,” he said.