Sihanoukville Families Dig In Heels Against Government Promises

An offer of land titles to families living on state land near Sihanoukville’s Kbal Chhay waterfall has been extended to 1,000 more households, Preah Sihanouk provincial governor Yun Min announced over the weekend.

A sub-decree that was first announced last month was to divide 400 hectares near one of the city’s two fresh water sources among 2,000 families. Mr. Min announced on Saturday that the offer would now cover 3,000 families over 682 hectares.

Hardened by the yearslong land dispute—including threats of forceful evictions two years ago—some families greeted the news with distrust on Monday, digging in their heels against the government’s promises.

Nuth Bunchoeun, 63, a construction worker who had settled on a 10 by 30 meter patch near the waterfall in 2012, said he would not move.

“We will not move anywhere if the government comes to evict us,” he said. “We will continue our protest against the authorities.”

Of particular concern to Mr. Bunchoeun were the dimensions of any new plot he might be offered. “We don’t believe the government’s promises,” he said. “I heard they’ll provide us with small plots of land, like 5 by 20 meters.”

Residents such as Mr. Bunchoeun, who moved to the land after 1997, are considered “new people” who would have to accept what the state could slice off, while old residents would be allowed to keep the plots they are living on.

Chhit Sophat, chief of Muoy commune, said about 300 “new” families would have to move, though the size and location of their plots had yet to be determined.

Tai Reaksmey, the provincial coordinator for rights NGO Licadho, said many residents remained frustrated with the vagueness of the governor’s statements on Saturday.

“The press conference worried them…. The people around here have a lot of experience being evicted and having their land then given to someone with power,” he added. “They’re not going to leave.”

(Additional reporting by Aisha Down)

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