Villagers in Cambodia’s Pailin province are accusing authorities of allowing a powerful local police officer to grab nearly two hectares of mountainous public land for his own use. A villager from Pailin’s Steung Kach commune who spoke with RFA’s Khmer service on condition of anonymity said that an immigration police officer named Men Savuth stationed at the Prum border checkpoint near Thailand had bulldozed the land in the commune’s Phsar Prum village and begun using the land as his own property.
Villagers also contend that higher government officials have turned a blind eye to the activity, he said. “The activities of paving mountain land have been seen in the area, including the recent grabbing of land in two different places: one at the front of the mountain and another at the back of the mountain,” the villager said.
RFA’s attempts to reach Men Savuth were unsuccessful.
Kim Sokha, chief of the Pailin Provincial Department of Environment, disputed the villagers’ claims, saying that authorities had put a stop to the land grab, documented the activity, and turned their evidence over to the courts for adjudication. “I just want to tell you that the area is under my protection, so I supervise everything,” he told RFA. “I won’t let anyone easily grab land or pave in the area. Moreover, I also have strategic plans for 2016. I will manage to grow trees back on the mountain,” he said.
But villagers say that isn’t so, telling RFA they fear officials have plans to profit from the land since it lies near a casino. “The mountain zone land that they took and paved will probably be used for locations to build something, because those areas are close to casino zones,” said another villager.