Preah Vihear Families File Complaint as Land Set Aside for Airport

More than 60 families living in Preah Vihear province filed a complaint with rights group Adhoc on Monday after officials announced that their land had been set aside for a new airport and would not be measured for private land titles, lo­cal officials said.

“The people in the village submitted [the complaint] to Adhoc be­cause they want help, and because their problems were not solved by city and provincial authorities,” said Bres Chhorn, chief of Bosen village in Palhal commune.

Mr. Chhorn said that student volunteers deployed as part of Prime Minister Hun Sen’s nationwide land-titling program were presently measuring land for residents of Preah Vihear City but had been ordered by provincial of­­ficials to avoid 97 families that have been living on the site of the long-disused Preah Vihear airport for more than 20 years.

“If they aren’t given land titles, where will they live?” he said. “Where is Prime Minister Hun Sen’s win-win policy?”

Provincial governor Oum Ma­ra said the families had no rights to the land. “We cannot provide them with land titles because the land be­longs to the State Secretariat for Ci­v­il Aviation [SSCA],” he said.

SSCA Undersecretary of State Eng Suosdey, however, said construction of a new provincial airport was unlikely to begin soon be­cause the government could not afford to build the facility without the help of a private investor. And because the new airport was in­tended to cater to domestic passen­g­ers, he said, foreign investors were unlikely to be interested.

In October, Cambodia Airports —which operates the Phnom Penh, Siem Reap and Sihanouk­ville international airports—announced that it had financed a study of un­used domestic airports in Bat­tam­bang, Koh Kong, Preah Vihear, Ra­ta­nakkiri and Stung Treng prov­inces on behalf of the government.

At the time, tourism experts ex­pressed skepticism that the re­mote destinations would attract the number of visitors necessary to sustain a local aviation industry.

Adhoc Preah Vihear provincial co­ordinator Lor Chann said that if the government had always intended to rebuild the airport, it should not have let lo­cal authorities ap­prove ownership documents for any of the 62 families who filed the complaint and now risk losing 18.6 hec­tares of farm and residential land.

In early August, Mr. Hun Sen said that stu­dent volunteers would not measure disputed land.

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