Despite Promise of Title, Authorities Refuse to Measure Land

Villagers and local authorities continued to argue over a 4-hectare plot of land in Phnom Penh’s Russei Keo district on Monday, a day after officials promised to measure and issue a title for it.

District council chief Prak Channa on Sunday promised to issue a land title for the Khtor pagoda after villagers on Friday set fire to an excavator they said the Eng Kaing Development Company was using to destroy a crematorium at the pagoda.

Villagers throw a pipe onto a burning pile at the Khtor pagoda on Saturday during a protest against Eng Kaing Development Company's efforts to demolish a crematorium on the site. An excavator torched by the villagers on Friday night sits in the background. (Siv Channa)
Villagers throw a pipe onto a burning pile at the Khtor pagoda on Saturday during a protest against Eng Kaing Development Company’s efforts to demolish a crematorium on the site. An excavator torched by the villagers on Friday night sits in the background. (Siv Channa)

But on Monday, villagers said that authorities had gone to the site but refused to measure the land, saying instead that further discussions were still necessary.

“They said they wanted us to select one representative for the three villages [involved in the dispute] but we do not accept this,” said 63-year-old Tom Ol.

Cheat Ty, 49, said there was no need for representatives because villagers agreed that the land should be given back to the pagoda through a land title.

“The whole village can just look on as they come and measure the land,” Mr. Ty said.

However Mr. Channa, the district council chief, said that the villagers were divided and therefore needed to elect representatives.

“We are waiting for them, as there are many parties in the group,” Mr. Channa said. “District authorities will measure the land and hand it over to the pagoda’s committee, but for now they need the representatives.”

In April 2012 the Council of Ministers announced that the land that holds the pagoda and the crematorium was being transferred to the Eng Kaing Development Company.

But after the weekend protests, the body nullified that original order.

Phnom Penh governor Pa Socheatvong and district governor Khlaing Huot have said the rescinding of the Council of Ministers’ original land grant on Sunday came on the back of a direct order by Prime Minister Hun Sen.

Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan declined to comment on the refusal Monday by local authorities to provide a land title as promised, saying that he was unfamiliar with the long-running dispute.

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