Villagers rush to get ‘free land’

One of the makeshift dwellings on the plots of land. KT/Ros Chanveasana

One of the makeshift dwellings on the plots of land. KT/Ros Chanveasana

Hundreds of villagers from various provinces have gone to occupy land illegally in Kampong Speu province in recent months after believing brokers’ tales that they could get land plots with titles from a private company for free.
The land in question is a parcel measuring 125 hectares that has already been titled in Phnom Sruoch district’s Treng Trayoeng commune.
Surrounding the land is a factory along with rubber and mango plantations. This plot of land has been cleared and hundreds of temporary shelters have been built from small pieces of timber and tarpaulins for roof and walls.
Land brokers have spread propaganda that the plot of land belongs to tycoon Uk Khun’s company, and his son would distribute plots of land directly.
Each villager is said to have registered with a working group without any fee and each family is supposed to be granted a land plot measuring 20-by-30 meters.
Ly You, a villager from Prey Veng province, said he and his family came about a month ago and expect to get a plot as they were told it did not require payment to the company.
He said they were promised the land after paying a fee to the teams carrying out a census and registering villagers’ names on a list.
Mr. You sleeps in a cottage along with his wife and daughters.
They did not want to leave or work anywhere because they were told they needed to stay until their names were registered.
“They demanded $55 from me, but if we did not have it, we had to stay and build houses while awaiting the census. People who have money, they paid and left,” he said, adding that he built shelters by himself and would get receipt of the land after it was measured.
He and his family registered and bought three plots.
“I already registered, but the registration has many steps. I have stayed here until facing near starvation. I could not find any job because I am waiting for registration,” he said in his cottage while looking at other villagers.
“If they [working team] went to register at another place, we would lose our right and could not be registered on the list.”
When talking to other villagers, they raised the same issues as Mr. You, but seemed to be happy over the prospect of free land. Some people came more than three month ago after getting information from their relatives and neighbors.
In that time, many villagers from Treng Trayoeng commune as well as Kampot, Preah Sihnanouk, Prey Veng, Takeo and other provinces flocked to register for the supposedly free land.
They affirmed that some people from Phnom Penh bought more than two plots by paying $60 for each, but those people were not required to stay there.
Within three months, about 200 temporary shelters had been built on the land and more than 300 people had registered for it.
An agent who identified himself only as Long, who was responsible for receiving registrations, came to meet Khmer Times reporters when contacted and introduced by villagers. Khmer Times reporters posed as land buyers.
Mr. Long explained that the plot of land would be granted free, but buyers were  required to register first and provide five copies of their ID card and family book.
“If you pay $60, you will be immediately registered on the list and land can be measured immediately for you, but you have to build a house on the land. You can build [cottages] like the other villagers,” he said.
Mr. Long claimed that he just registered 20 plots of land to a family from Phnom Penh. They reportedly paid $60 for each plot.
“If you don’t have money, you have to stay here and wait long term,” he said, adding that after the national election in 2018, the company would buy back the land at $0.80 per square meter.
About 10 minutes later, Mr. Long called Khmer Times’ reporters to register, demanding a fee of $3.75.
More than three people were processing registrations. The reporters registered using fake names and giving thumbprints. No receipts or documents were received, but they promised to get in touch for a census and to measure the plot of land.
Mr. Long asked Khmer Times reporters to announce and spread this information as the company has 15,000 hectares to grant to citizens.
Despite many villagers believing the propaganda, some local villagers said the land already has an owner and it is being occupied illegally.
Local villager Lim Kheoun told Khmer Times that she saw a large number of her neighbors going to register for the land provided by Uk Khun’s company.
“I am not crazy with this ridiculous story because I think all villagers hoping to get these land plots will become victims one day,” she said.
“I just know a little bit about this company’s background and that they are attempting to encroach on the owner’s land by using local people instead of themselves.”
Kampong Speu provincial governor Vy Samnang confirmed to Khmer Times that it was not allowed for any private company to grant land to anyone free of charge in his province.
Mr. Samnang accused a company bearing the name Uk Khun of inciting local villagers from various provinces to encroach on the land even though it has a land title issued by the government.
“They are attempting to push local villagers to encroach on the 125 hectares of land by claiming they are a charitable company, granting land free of charge to local villagers,” he said.
Mr. Samnang said it seemed to be such a ridiculous story that it could never happen in his province.
However, the actual landowners, who live in Phnom Penh, have filed a complaint against Uk Khun’s company at the provincial court, stating that the company was involved in encroachment of their land.
“In fact, this company is making trouble in the community which violates the kingdom’s laws. I wrote a handwritten note to order provincial authorities to arrest the brokers who incite people to encroach on the owner’s land,” Mr. Samnang said.
“If they are not arrested, it will make more trouble leading to unrest in the province and local villagers will be cheated, losing their money and time as well.”

Source: Khmer Times

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