A joint-ministerial working group and Koh Kong provincial authorities on Tuesday denied claims that officials have demanded money from people who want to be identified as true land owners in a dispute between villagers and the Union Development Group in the province’s Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts.
A Koh Kong Administration press release on Tuesday said that officials from the Environment and Land Management ministries, and provincial authorities, should not ask for money from those wishing to prove their ownership of the land in the disputed locations.
The statement said that there was a rumour recently that officials from the joint working team have demanded money from land claimants in exchange for taking down their particulars.
“The ministries and provincial level working groups would like to completely deny this rumour, and confirm that no payment is needed,” the statement said. “If anyone has been asked to pay, please inform the Environment Ministry and Koh Kong Administration immediately.”
Koh Kong Deputy Governor Sok Sothy said yesterday that provincial authorities are trying to identify those behind the rumour and will take legal action against them.
“We have not yet found them and are afraid people will believe them,” he said. “We have issued this press release to let people know that the rumour is not true.”
“If we find those who are behind this false information, we will take legal action because our teams are working tirelessly, including on weekends, to complete the job quickly,” he added.
Mr Sothy said that as of yesterday, the working teams have identified 150 families who are living in Kiri Sakor district’s Prek Khsach commune among 184 families who have asked for intervention to settle the dispute.
He added that they plan to finish the work by this weekend.
“After surveying the areas in dispute, the team will report its findings to the national level,” he said. “The chairman of the joint working group, led by the Environment Ministry, will decide on the next step.”
Veng Hout, a resident involved in the dispute, said he heard that officials were demanding money from people.
“People are just saying things without providing any proof,” he said. “The ministries and provincial level working group in fact are working voluntarily on the task without asking for money from us.”
“I am also a true resident here and they came to survey my land without demanding any money from me. So the news is not true,” he added.
The working group, which has also invited civil society organisations to participate, has been checking and collecting information on land in the two districts since July 10 to iron out the dispute.