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 . The proposed site, covering 2,600 hectares, is predominantly low-lying agricultural land on the northwestern shore of Boueng Cheung Loung . 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 . 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 .
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 . 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 . 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 . 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 . 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.  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 . 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 .
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.”