Land Grabs in Cambodia: Multiple Arrests, Imprisonment, and Death After Government Forced Evictions in Preah Vihea

By Soben Ung, Khmer Post USA

A woman, age 53, committed suicide on March 15 after government forces violently evicted villagers in the Kuleaen district, Preah Vihea province in northern Cambodia.

The villagers plea for help after land grab evictions
Victims of land grab families include women and small children escaped from the arrest in the forest


A report published by LICADO, a rights advocate group, on March 6 said “a group of mixed armed forces including gendarmes and police officers accompanied by forestry administration officials mobilized this morning to secure disputed land in the Preah Vihear province, resulting in the use of live ammunition and arrests.” It was reported that a mixed force armed with automatic rifles entered with tractors to clear the disputed land. Villagers living in the area, afraid of forced eviction and their property being destroyed, gathered to demand the government force leave the area which resulted in a confrontation. A video captured live ammunition being shot repeatedly by the authorities in addition use of smoke grenades.

As results, 40 people were sent to Preah Vihear Provincial Court, 28 people are in prison, while 30 people including women and small children escaped and stayed in the forest to avoid arrest and imprisonment. One woman remaining unanimous told VOD on March 16, “nothing is more painful to see our homes have been burned and they are hunting us down” Another man said, “it’s better to die anyway, they took all our land, there is no meaning to live anymore.” The group stayed in forest for 10 days without foods or water, no mosquitoes net, some children developed malaria. A woman said that they will commit suicide as a group if there is no solution in the coming days.

Scence at land grab victims’ home after force evictions


This incident is one of many long series of land conflicts resulted in Economic Land Concession policy by the government. This particular incident involves Seladamex Co., Ltd., the company was granted an Economic Land Concession in 2011 in Sravang and Phnum Tbaeng Pir communes in Preah Vihear’s Kuleaen district. The land concession created land conflicts with hundreds of families who already live in that area. In 2022 alone, 131 families reported that their belongings and crops had been destroyed by the authorities on behalf of the company, according to the LICADO report.

The used of an armed force to violently evict villagers reminded many Cambodians of the Boeung Kak Lake community in Phnom Penh in 2008, fatal violence was also used to forcibly evict local residents and clear the way for tourist development. And in 2007, two people were shot dead by security forces while evicting residents near the Preah Vihear temple complex in northern Cambodia.

Record showed that over 2.25 million hectares (or 5.56 million acres) of Economic Land Concessions (ELC) were issued by the government between 2001 – 2022, according to data compiled by LICACO. This has enabled deforestation and timber laundering throughout the protected area across Cambodia, contributing directly to an estimated 40% of Cambodia’s deforestation.

Land Grab victim committed suicide on March 15 after government forces violently evicted villagers in the Kuleaen district, Preah Vihea province in northern Cambodia.


Preah Vihear province, Kuleaen district is the location of the Koh Ker ruins which lies 75 miles northeast of Angkor Wat. The ruins have many temples and sanctuaries including sculptures, inscriptions, wall paintings, and archaeological remains. Following recent archeological discovery, it was added to the UNESCO World Heritage List in September 2023. Koh Ker was the capital of the Khmer Empire for a brief period between 928-941 C.E. under its founder King Jayavarman IV. It is located between the southern slopes of the Dangrek mountains, and the Kulen mountains, near Thai Border.

Northeastern providences such as Preah Vihea and Mondulkiri are known for being rich in gold, precious gemstone, large timbers and mostly populated by the indigenous people. It’s an ideal place for those companies who get the ELCs to strip away the country’s natural resources. The ELCs policy created nightmares for Cambodians. Rights group estimated some 400,000 Cambodians affected by land grab, many linked to ELCs between 2003 and 2012.

In May 2012, the government declared a bann on the granting of new Economic Land Concessions (ELCs). However, records showed that concession land has not stopped, instead has continued to the present, with 131 ELCs amounting to 5.56 million acres, which makes up 14% of Cambodia’s total land, about the size of the State of New Jersey, according the data compiled by rights group LICADO.

After the Khmer Rouge regime, between 1975- 1979, which abolished all private property. Cambodians face a real problem with land rights. Today, hard (real) property rights guarantee are only for those with political connections. Ordinary citizens may get their property rights revoked in the event the government takes it over and make it a protected area which makes up 41% of the country, or giving it to a foreign company to develop through Economic Land Concession.