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.