Dismissing a recent report showing a sharp increase in land disputes, the government has said such conflicts are in fact decreasing and formally called on rights group Licadho to release its findings.
Licadho reported last week that it recorded about three times as many new land complaints last year than in 2013, affecting more than 10,000 families across 13 provinces.
“Urgent action is required to avert this continuing trend,” the group said at the time. But the government dismissed the findings, labelling them “fabricated”.
“They have a hidden agenda . . . they are making it up to get more funds,” Council of Ministers spokesman Phay Siphan said of Licadho.
On Friday, the Cadastral Commission at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction wrote to Licadho to request detailed information about the disputes in question.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for Licadho, said the group was preparing to provide the information to the ministry as requested in the hope that it could help solve the seemingly intractable disputes.
“The cases compiled by the Cadastral Commission are based only on complaints filed to the commission,” he said.
“It does not include cases where the complainants are in conflict with economic land concessions, or vulnerable people who are seeking solutions through the courts, the judicial system and with the help of NGOs,” he added.
The Ministry of Land Management noted that its own figures suggest that land disputes have significantly declined over the past few years, from 990 cases in 2013 to 750 cases last year, after the ministry “resolved” 240 cases.
Data released by Licadho last April showed that Cambodia had passed what it called a “shameful milestone”, with land conflicts having affected more than half a million people since 2000.
Last week, the group said that it had recorded more than 90 new land disputes last year, involving 10,625 households, or slightly fewer than 50,000 people.
Latt Ky, head of the land section at local rights group Adhoc, said that despite the two groups’ findings on land conflicts differing – largely due to having different remits and receiving different reports – the figures provided by Licadho are “appropriate”.
The Cadastral Commission offers little confidence to those affected by land disputes as it fails to provide a focal point for complaints, he added.
“If we look at the Cadastral Commission, they do not work at all [to solve land disputes]. The commission seems to have abandoned its role,” he said.
“It has not resolved the complaints of the victims, and that’s the reason so many land dispute victims came to Phnom Penh and marched . . . because they have zero faith in the commission.”
E Bunthoeun, vice president of the Cadastral Commission, declined to comment as he had not yet received a response from Licadho to his request.
“I have no obligation to respond to journalists,” he said.