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New Phnom Penh Airport and Airport City, Kandal province, Cambodia


Description:

In January 2018 the Cambodian government approved a plan for a new airport, one of the world’s largest airports by land area, in the Kandal Province [1]. The proposed site, covering 2,600 hectares, is predominantly low-lying agricultural land on the northwestern shore of Boueng Cheung Loung [2]. Announcement of the new airport and associated development sent land prices soaring upwards and within days land for sale signs had been hastily erected. Rice fields and lakeside properties in the area that had been valued at between US$20,000 - 50,000 per hectare before announcement of the new airport began selling for as much as US$100,000 or even US$200,000 per hectare. Villagers were shocked by sudden news of the airport project, along with publication of maps appearing to show the new airport and a massive multi-use development on land they have resided on and near for more than two decades [3]. Their land ownership is disputed by a local 'oknha' or tycoon, Seang Chanheng, who has long laid claim to it. Even provincial authorities have professed uncertainty regarding rights to the land [4].

 On 19th February 2018 over 200 people from four communes gathered at Kandal Provincial Hall to voice their complaints regarding land earmarked for the new airport and seek resolution of the land dispute [5]. A woman said she was one of several villagers who had sold land but been underpaid, selling it for $250 per hectare but receiving a fraction this amount, just $25 or $50. She said they had been intimidated during negotiation over the land, that representatives of the company had slammed the table in front of them, threatened them, locked the door and called the police [6]. On 10th April 2018, 200 people representing 2,000 families gathered outside Kandal Steung district hall requesting intervention in the land dispute over a 400 hectare area, a representative said unidentified companies had cleared and begun marking parts of their communal land [7]. Another protest against the airport and adjoining development was held on 25th April 2018. Hundreds of villagers participated and said that excavators were encroaching on communally held wetlands. A representative for the villagers said that 1,000 families had submitted claims to land affected by the development [8]. On 4th May 2018 hundreds of villagers from the Ampov Prey commune protested against Chanheng’s company, Heng Development, and about five other companies laying claim to their land. About 1,200 families thumb-printed a document asking district officials for fair compensation for land that is likely to be encompassed in the project, and the loss of their livelihoods from farming and fishing. Many of them had lived on the land since the mid-1990s. [9] On 6th June 2018 about 800 people representing over 2,000 families gathered at Kandal Provincial Hall to file a complaint against multiple private companies, including Heng Development, operating in their commune, clearing land despite their complaints. The complaint stated that they would escalate protest if their demands are not met, occupying the land and holding rallies at the national level [10]. The land dispute pre-dates announcement of the airport and ‘airport city’ project. In 2005 Chenheng's men began bulldozing land occupied by nearly 300 families, whose ownership appeared legitimate on the basis of a 2001 law that people living peacefully on uncontested land for five years can lay claim to it. In 2006-7 the Kandal Provincial Court upheld their claim to the land. Some families were issued with temporary land titles, but not the official land titles that they were assured of. Chanheng's company began clearing the land again in 2009, bulldozing farms and a temple. Company security guards and Military Police fired on villagers who came to protest, wounding three of them. In 2010 ten villagers attempting to block bulldozers from destroying their ripening rice crops were arrested and charged with land grabbing and incitement in connection with the protests, a move decried as harassment by human rights organizations.

As land disputes erupt again in the wake of the planned new airport, with villagers fearing they will be stripped of their land and evicted, human rights groups argued that development on the land should cease until land disputes are resolved. Vann Sopathi, business and human rights coordinator for the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, said that government and developers should conduct a social and environmental impact assessment of the airport project, and that it should not be permitted to proceed until a mutually acceptable solution is agreed between the company and the affected people [4].

In late 2018 more than 2,000 families reportedly accepted USD$100 each in compensation for losing 400 hectares of the community lake but others refused the offer saying that the amount was too little for such valuable land. On 6th May 2019 about 400 villagers protested outside the Kandal Stung district hall seeking compensation for communal land they said was sold to house the new Phnom Penh airport, without their knowledge. A representative of the villagers, Phok Phanny, said that 83 hectares of land in the Ampov Prey commune, belonging to a ‘solidarity group’ dating back to the 1980s, had been set aside divided into parts for farming, forest and as a communal lake. A company, named by the district governor in previous reports as Seang Chanheng’s Heng Corporation, also claimed ownership of the land. Villagers said that after the announcement of the new airport in early 2018 the company had sold the land to Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC). Another protesting villager, Yem Yat,  said that authorities had demarcated the land in question for communal use in 1984. Yat said: “We are protesting at the district hall and want the district authorities to intervene with the company to find a solution for the people…The land belonged to the people, and did not belong to a businessperson.”[11]

On December 2019 Chairman of OCIC, Pung Kheav Se, said construction of New Phnom Penh Airport was on schedule and could be completed as early as 2013. He said the foundations of the airport were being built, an environmental impact assessment was being conducted and negotiations with people affected by construction were underway. But spokesman of the State Secreatariat of Civil Aviation, Sin Chansereyvutha, said the airport was unlikely to be finished so soon. He said: “We need time to clear the land and lay the foundations and solve any land dispute. As per our schedule, the new airport will be ready by 2024, but it may be delayed until 2025.”[12] In June 2020 Kandal Stung district governor Ouch Saovoeun said the land affected by airport construction in the district totalled 2,000 plots, 2,002 hectares of land. Minister of Land Management, urban Planning and Construction, Chea Sophara, said the government had reached an agreement with 173 families impacted by construction of New Phnom Penh International Airport. Speaking during a visit to the site he said residents and private companies owned 1,673 hectares, stating “Our team has helped to resolve the dispute with the residents at the project site by providing compensation in line with the size of their land…Out team helped 36 families affected by road construction. Eight of those families agreed to accept 5mX20m plots. The other 28 families accepted money.” He said the land was purchased on the principle of not more than USD8 per square metre.[13] On 25th August 2020 about 50 villagers from Kandal and Takeo provinces gathered to submit a petition at Prime Minister Hun Sen’s residence in Takhmao City. They said their farmland falls within the planned site of the new Phnom Penh International Airport and the petition requested a bigger payout from the airport developer. A Kandal province resident who had refused compensation, Chhorn Chanthol of Boeng Khyang commune, said the groups demonstrated in front of the premier’s house because a petition submitted earlier in the month had not been answered. Un Soeun, a 68-year old resident from Putsar commune in the Takeo province, said the airport site spans land occupied by 250 people in the Bati district, on the border with Kandal province, including half a hectare of her own farmland. She said OCIC had previously offered between USD3 and USD8 per square metre of land to compensate Bati residents. She and others had refused the payout offer while some people had accepted it. She said, “ask Samdech (Hun Sen) to find a proper solution for the people so then people can use the money to buy land for farming and feed their children.” Another Putsar resident, Kranh Chandy, said she would lose half a hectare of farmland to the airport project and that authorities had blocked a local canal, preventing farmers from accessing water for irrigating their crops. She said: “We don’t have water for farming…We are worried and always thinking [about the future] because I only have that amount of land and I have to raise my children.”[14]

Basic Data

Name of conflict:New Phnom Penh Airport and Airport City, Kandal province, Cambodia
Country:Cambodia
State or province:Kandal
Location of conflict:Kandal Stueng
Accuracy of locationHIGH (Local level)

Source of Conflict

Type of conflict. 1st level:Infrastructure and Built Environment
Type of conflict. 2nd level:Urban development conflicts
Ports and airport projects
Transport infrastructure networks (roads, railways, hydroways, canals and pipelines)
Land acquisition conflicts
Specific commodities:Land

Project Details and Actors

Project details

A map published in the Phnom Penh Post, shows approximately 700 hectares allocated for the new airport and approximately 1,900 hectares earmarked for development of an 'Airport City'. The latter was described by State Secretariat of Aviation (SSCA) spokesperson Sinn Chanserey Vutha as a mixed-use development including a commercial centre and residential housing. Preparing the lakeside area of the proposed site for airport construction would require land reclamation and it is thought that there is some overlap between the project area and Boueng Cheung Loung lake.[15]

Construction of the new Phnom Penh airport is anticipated to commence in 2019 and a 21st December 2017 document from the Council of Ministers approved an investment proposal from Cambodia Airport Investment, a joint venture between SSCA and Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC). OCIC is a private firm, one of the largest finance, infrastructure and real estate companies in Cambodia, owned by tycoon Pung Khiev Se, with a track record of financing major development projects [2]. A large area of disputed land was recently purchased for the airport project by OCIC in partnership with the SSCA [4].

The projected cost of the new airport is US$1.5 billion. Of this sum, OCIC will invest US$280 million and US$120 million will come from public funds, but the bulk of the funding, US$1.1 billion, will come from "foreign banks”.[16] OCIC signed a "co-operation framework agreement" for the new airport with the state-run China Development Bank. Chinese financing of the new airport is one of 19 agreements to develop Cambodia's infrastructure, agriculture and health system, signed on 11th January 2018 during a visit to Cambodia by Chinese Premier Li Keqiang [17]. The deals were signed by various representatives of the Cambodian and Chinese governments in a ceremony lasting less than 10 minutes. Officials did not ask any questions and few details were given about the agreements, even though they are likely to impact heavily on Cambodia's future development [18].

In December 2019 foundations of the airport were being constructed. Chrek Soknim, president of the Cambodian Valuers and Estate Agents Association said: “Once the new airport is finished, the real estate and construction sectors in Cambodia will attract more investors. The land around the airport has attracted a lot of investment already after it was chosen as the site of the new airport.”[12]

In March 2020 UK architectural design and engineering firm Foster + Partners was selected to design the master plan for New Phnom Penh International Airport. In line with the master plan the airport will be capable of handling 27 million passengers annually by 2030, rising to 30 million by 2050.[19] In November 2020 Cambodia Airport Investment selected Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) to design and build the airfield for the New Phnomh Penh Airport. The USD400 million deal, MCC’s largest contract that year, is to be executed by its Shanghai Baoye Group subsidiary. The airfield, including a single 4km runway, is due to be complete by the end of 2022 with flights to begin the following year. Upon completion the airport will cover more than 700 hectares.[20]

Project area:2,600
Level of Investment for the conflictive project1,500,000,000
Type of populationRural
Affected Population: 2,000 families
Start of the conflict:19/02/2018
Company names or state enterprises:Overseas Cambodia Investment Corporation (OCIC) from Cambodia - investor
Heng Development Company from Cambodia - claims ownership of land earmarked for the airport project
Metallurgical Corporation of China (MCC) from China - Contracted to design and build the airfield for New Phnom Penh Airport in November 2020[20]
Norman Foster & Partners from United Kingdom - Selected to design the master plan for New Phnom Penh International Airport in March 2020[19]
Relevant government actors:National government of Cambodia
Kandal Provincial Government
State Secretariat of Aviation (SSCA)
National government of China
International and Finance InstitutionsChina Development Bank (CDB) from China
Environmental justice organizations (and other supporters) and their websites, if available:CCFC Cambodia (Coalition of Cambodian Farmers Community Association): http://www.ccfccambodia.org/
Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR: https://cchrcambodia.org/
Open Development Cambodia (ODC): https://opendevelopmentcambodia.net/

Conflict & Mobilization

IntensityMEDIUM (street protests, visible mobilization)
Reaction stagePREVENTIVE resistance (precautionary phase)
Groups mobilizing:Farmers
Indigenous groups or traditional communities
Local ejos
Neighbours/citizens/communities
Women
Fisher people
Forms of mobilization:Involvement of national and international NGOs
Land occupation
Lawsuits, court cases, judicial activism
Official complaint letters and petitions
Public campaigns
Street protest/marches
Appeals/recourse to economic valuation of the environment
Refusal of compensation

Impacts

Environmental ImpactsVisible: Loss of landscape/aesthetic degradation, Food insecurity (crop damage)
Potential: Air pollution, Biodiversity loss (wildlife, agro-diversity), Floods (river, coastal, mudflow), Global warming, Noise pollution, Soil contamination, Waste overflow, Deforestation and loss of vegetation cover, Surface water pollution / Decreasing water (physico-chemical, biological) quality, Large-scale disturbance of hydro and geological systems, Reduced ecological / hydrological connectivity, Groundwater pollution or depletion
Health ImpactsVisible: Mental problems including stress, depression and suicide
Potential: Malnutrition, Other environmental related diseases, Other Health impacts
Other Health impactsHealth problems related to pollution emitted by aircraft and road vehicles
Socio-economical ImpactsVisible: Specific impacts on women
Potential: Increase in Corruption/Co-optation of different actors, Displacement, Increase in violence and crime, Loss of livelihood, Loss of traditional knowledge/practices/cultures, Militarization and increased police presence, Violations of human rights, Land dispossession, Loss of landscape/sense of place

Outcome

Project StatusUnder construction
Conflict outcome / response:Compensation
Criminalization of activists
Court decision (undecided)
Repression
Under negotiation
Proposal and development of alternatives:Affected residents demand fair compensation for loss of their land and farming and fishing livelihoods
Do you consider this an environmental justice success? Was environmental justice served?:Not Sure
Briefly explain:As of August 2020 a number of land disputes remain unresolved

Sources & Materials

[1] New mega-airport and 'Airport City' in Cambodia triggers land disputes, Global Anti-Aerotropolis Movement (GAAM), 21 February 2018
https://antiaero.org/2018/02/21/new-mega-airport-and-airport-city-in-cambodia-triggers-land-disputes/

[2] Government plans one of world’s biggest airports in Kandal, Phnom Penh Post, 15 January 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/business/government-plans-one-worlds-biggest-airports-kandal

[3] Land prices soar on capital’s airport announcement, Phnom Penh Post, 26 January 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/post-property/land-prices-soar-capitals-airport-announcement

[4] Will huge new airport planned for Kandal see locals stripped of land?, Phnom Penh Post, 8 February 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national-post-depth/will-huge-new-airport-planned-kandal-see-locals-stripped-land

[5] Hundreds protest in Kandal airport land dispute, Phnom Penh Post, 19 February 2018
http://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/hundreds-protest-kandal-airport-land-dispute

[6] Villagers in dispute over land for new Kandal airport take fight to province hall, Phnom Penh Post, 19 February 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/villagers-dispute-over-land-new-kandal-airport-take-fight-province-hall

[7] Kandal airport land still in dispute, Khmer Times, 10 April 2018
https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50301067/kandal-airport-land-still-in-dispute/

[8] Villagers protest Kandal airport development, Phnom Penh Post, 25 April 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/villagers-protest-kandal-airport-development

[9] Villagers in land dispute with airport developers meet with district authorities, Phnom Penh Post, 4 May 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/villagers-land-dispute-airport-developers-meet-district-authorities

[10] Kandal villagers demand intervention, Khmer Times, 6 June 2018
https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50497324/kandal-villagers-demand-intervention/

[11] Villagers Protest Sale of ‘Communal’ Land for New Airport, VOD News, 6 May 2019
https://en.vodhotnews.com/villagers-protest-sale-of-communal-land-for-new-airport/

[12] Construction of new Phnom Penh airport on schedule, Khmer Times, 06/12/2019
https://www.khmertimeskh.com/667677/construction-of-new-phnom-penh-airport-on-schedule/

[13] Deal struck with residents affected by new international airport, Phnom Penh Post, 23/06/2020
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/national/deal-struck-residents-affected-new-international-airport

[14] Farmers Displaced by Planned Phnom Penh Airport Seek Better Deal, VOD English, 26/08/2020
https://vodenglish.news/farmers-displaced-by-planned-phnom-penh-airport-seek-better-deal/

[15] Government approves plan to relocate Phnom Penh’s airport, Phnom Penh Post, 19 January 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/supplements-post-property/government-approves-plan-relocate-phnom-penhs-airport

[16] Phnom Penh’s new $1.5b airport gets the green light, Khmer Times, 15 January 2018
https://www.khmertimeskh.com/50102014/phnom-penhs-new-1-5b-airport-gets-the-green-light/

[17] Beijing, Phnom Penh Ink Billions of US Dollars’ Worth of Development Deals For Cambodia, Radio Free Asia, 11 January 2018
https://www.rfa.org/english/news/cambodia/deals-01112018165143.html

[18] China deals swiftly signed, Phnom Penh Post, 12 January 2018
https://www.phnompenhpost.com/business/china-deals-swiftly-signed

[19] Foster & Partner to design US$1.5 billion new Phnom Penh International Airport, Construction & Property News, 18/03/2020
https://construction-property.com/the-well-known-global-firm-a-designer-of-us1-5-billion-new-phnom-penh-international-airport/

[20] China’s latest Phnom Penh airport deal casts doubt on Vinci’s role in Cambodian aviation, 23/11/2020
https://www.globalconstructionreview.com/news/chinas-latest-phnom-penh-airport-deal-casts-doubt-/

Meta information

Contributor:Rose Bridger, Stay Grounded, email: [email protected]
Last update24/02/2021
Conflict ID:3641

Images

 

Proposed site of New Phnom Penh Airport

A modified satellite image shows the proposed site of New Phnom Penh Airport. Source: Phnom Penh Post

Protest, 19th February 2018

Over 200 people demanded intervention in the land dispute over New Phnom Penh Airport. Source: Phnom Penh Post

25th April 2018 protest

Hundreds of villagers protested against the airport project Source: Phnom Penh Post

4th May 2018 protest

Hundreds of residents protested over companies laying claims to land slated for the new airport Source: Phnom Penh Post

5th June 2018

800 people filed a complaint against companies operating in their commune Source: Khmer Times

Artists impression of New Phnom Penh Airport

Source: Khmer Times

Protesting sale of communal land

On 6th May 2019 about 400 villages protested seeking compensation for land they say was sold to make way for the new airport, without their knowledge. Source: VOD News https://en.vodhotnews.com/villagers-protest-sale-of-communal-land-for-new-airport/

Construction works

In December 2019 it was reported that construction of New Phnom Penh Airport was on schedule, foundations were being laid, Khmer Times, 06/12/2019 https://www.khmertimeskh.com/667677/construction-of-new-phnom-penh-airport-on-schedule/

Farmers seek a better deal

Farmers submitted a petition asking for a better deal for their land, VOD English, 26/08/2020 https://vodenglish.news/farmers-displaced-by-planned-phnom-penh-airport-seek-better-deal/