Preah Sihanouk’s provincial governor on Wednesday warned that legal action would be taken against any brokers trying to grab land in the Kbal Chhay area, where it is prohibited to build property or sell land plots.
The warning came after provincial authorities discovered that in recent months, brokers have grabbed state lands and surrounded some of it with fences in order to sell land plots.
Preah Sihanouk Governor Yun Min said the land in Kbal Chhay is the main clean water resource for the province, so authorities cannot allow any land grabbing in the area.
He said authorities have prevented land grabbing in the past, but some opportunists continue to try doing so. He called for them to cease their actions immediately to avoid legal consequences.
“Sometimes we give away a plot of land to poor people, but then they sell the place for profit, so I ask all citizens to stop such actions.”
According to Mr Min, authorities have been collecting legal documents for those who have grabbed land in the prohibited area, and are prepared to file complaints against the brokers.
“First we need to educate people so that they understand their actions are wrong. But if it continues, and if we have sufficient evidence and enough witnesses, they will end up in court,” he said.
In late 2017, provincial authorities warned brokers who incited more than 200 families to grab land illegally and build houses at Prey Nop district’s Bit Trang commune.
At the time, armed forces were deployed to prevent the grabs and arrest three people, who had to sign contracts to stop their activities immediately.
Tin Meong, a resident who built his house on state land, said they heard the land was empty and took it because they had no land to live on.
“Authorities should tell people as soon as they go to live there, because people do not know the law,” Mr Meong said.
Cheap Sotheary, Sihanoukville coordinator for rights group Adhoc, said there have been cases of officials conspiring to take the land and divide it into plots to sell for up to $1,000, according to information collected from witnesses.
“Some people took the land to sell to others who did not know it was a prohibited area. Those who bought these plots were usually poor, because land in the province is expensive. They bought these plots, but were forcibly removed by authorities,” Ms Sotheary said.
Ms Sotheary asked provincial authorities to review the case carefully and to punish corrupt officials. She also suggested authorities place large billboards in the protected area relaying the consequences of grabbing state land as private property.