Hundreds of villagers from various provinces have occupied an economic land concession in Kampot province’s Chhuk district.
The land was granted to Chan Sothea, vice president of the Cambodian Chamber of Commerce, and her company First Bio-Tech Agriculture by the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries in 2005.
In 2012, First Bio-Tech lost approximately 7,000 hectares of the land during the Prime Minister Hun Sen’s land-titling campaign. The land was distributed to squatters and villagers, who had been living there since 2005.
Currently, the company is left with approximately 3,000 hectares, about a third of the size of the original ELC awarded in 2005. This remaining land was registered with the ministry for plantations and issued “certificates of long-term land use”.
According to Techor Aphiwat commune police chief Mao Mardy, some 200 shelters have been constructed in the area over the past two months.
“Within two months, more than 200 temporary shelters have been built on the land which has been given to the company as an Economic Land Concession after hundreds of villagers had come from Prey Veng, Kampong Speu, Svay Rieng and Kampong Chhnang provinces to encroach on the company’s land,” said Mr Mardy.
Over the weekend, military police arrested two people – a local journalist, and a goldsmith – who stand accused of being the masterminds to instigate and encourage illegal settlers to occupy the land.
In addition, the duo was also alleged to have incited the land grabbers to attack a security guard of the company and to destroy its properties.
Chea Sitha, 46, a reporter for People Power newspaper, and Sok Pisey, 52, a goldsmith in the commune, allegedly collected villagers to occupy the land inside the concession.
According to Mr Mardy, the encroaching villagers have since become aggressive and even banned local authorities from entering the area.