A group of 25 families in Siem Reap province who thought they were to be included in a deal Prime Minister Hun Sen personally arranged last month to settle a decades-old land dispute were abruptly informed otherwise Tuesday, when local authorities crashed their celebration plans.
While visiting Siem Reap City to partake in Khmer New Year festivities last month, Mr. Hun Sen announced that roughly 1,000 families in Slakram and Ampil communes would be getting the land they had long been fighting over with the state-run Apsara Authority. The dispute dates back to 1995, when the Council of Ministers granted the area to the Authority, which runs the Angkor Archeological Park, for tourist facilities.
Two sub-decrees soon followed the prime minister’s announcement: one granting 115 hectares to families in Slakram and another granting 111 hectares to families in Ampil.
The 25 families aggrieved in Ampil say they were convinced they were meant to get a part of the 111 hectares and on Tuesday afternoon started erecting a tent on the site of their old homes—which authorities had razed in February—to celebrate.
“We were just getting ready to hold a ceremony to celebrate getting the land and to thank Samdech Hun Sen,” Chan Solida, one of the expectant grantees, said Wednesday.
“But at about 6:30 p.m. yesterday 100 officials came to stop us…. The authorities removed everything because they claimed we were occupying Apsara Authority land. But we can’t accept that because we have been living on this land since 1993.”
Ms. Solida said city governor So Platong led the effort, accompanied by police, military police, Apsara security guards and a fire truck.
“We will not abandon this land because this land is ours,” said Yin Sokunthea. “Samdech Hun Sen gave the land to us, so why do the authorities say we live here illegally?”
Neither Bun Narith, the Apsara Authority’a director general, nor provincial governor Khim Bunsong could be reached for comment.
Apsara spokeswoman Chau Sun Kerya confirmed authorities had stepped in to preclude the celebrations.
“We stopped their ceremony because they did not have permission from authorities,” she said.
Ms. Sun Kerya also confirmed that some families in Ampil were getting land under the deal arranged by the prime minister but said she did not know the details.
“I got information about Samdech’s [Mr. Hun Sen’s] speech about this case, but I don’t know the specifics,” she said.
Provincial deputy governor Bun Tharith accused the 25 families of squatting on the land.
“They’re anarchists who grabbed Apsara Authority land, because they do not have enough documents” to prove their claims, he said.
However, Chhuy Vantha, a provincial monitor for rights group Licadho, said she believed Mr. Hun Sen meant for the 25 families to be included in the deal he arranged.
“The authorities should provide land to those 25 families because Prime Minister Hun Sen decided to cut the land [away from the Apsara Authority] for them,” she said.