A 20-year-old land dispute effectively came to an end Wednesday for hundreds of families in Siem Reap City after Prime Minister Hun Sen announced that the government would grant them the plot, which it awarded to the Apsara Authority in 1995.
Mr. Hun Sen—who is in Siem Reap for the Angkor Sankranta New Year festival—made the announcement while visiting the families, most of which are living on the contested land in Slakram commune.
“I cannot move all the people from this area because they have lived here for a long time,” he said. “And if we move the people from this area, how can we develop the land when all the people are homeless?”
Slakram commune chief Khieu Sort said 699 families were currently living on the land, but that a total of 1,120 families had been feuding with the Apsara Authority over the plot. Some of the families claim to have been farming there since the 1980s.
The dispute began in 1995, when the Council of Ministers issued a sub-decree granting the Apsara Authority—a government body that oversees the Angkor Archaeological Park—1,070 hectares on which to develop tourist facilities.
During his speech Wednesday, Mr. Hun Sen ordered the provincial governor and the provincial land management department to carve out a portion of the Authority’s concession for the families.
“We will build a concrete road more than 10 meters wide and 2,500 meters long for the families in Slakram commune after cutting the plot of land from the Apsara Authority,” the prime minister said. He did not say how large the plot would be, or how many families would have claims to it.
Contacted Wednesday, Siem Reap provincial governor Khim Bunsong said the land would officially be given to the families after the Khmer New Year holiday, which ends today.
“Samdech Hun Sen already signed the agreement and we will work with the Apsara Authority to cut out the land for the families soon,” he said.
Bun Narith, director-general of the Apsara Authority, said he had not received formal confirmation of Mr. Hun Sen’s resolution. “I don’t know…whether we will return the land to the families because I have not yet seen the official decision,” he said.
Sau Nath, 57, who owned a 20-by-40-meter plot of farmland in the commune before he was forced to hand it over to the Apsara Authority, said he was relieved that the dispute had come to an end.
“Before, we never thought we would be able to get the land back,” Mr. Nath said.
However, Ny Chakrya, head of monitoring for rights group Adhoc, said Mr. Hun Sen’s decision was merely a political ploy.
“I think Prime Minister Hun Sen announced the return of the land because he wanted to gain popularity on a political issue,” he said.
“I worry about the future, because maybe he was in a good mood today and solved the problem for the people, but if he is in a bad mood on any other day, he could give the land [back] to Apsara.”