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Arrest in land dispute

Villagers in Kandal province have spoken of their increased concerns about losing

their land after police arrested a man over a land dispute.

Khoy Tong had his land confiscated and was jailed April 10 after he tried to build

a house on a plot he had lived on for eight years.

"I don't know what I did wrong," Tong, 53, told the Post from his prison

cell. "I was told that the commune chief wanted to discuss the land problem,

but when I arrived at the commune office I was immediately arrested."

Tong said he bought the land from other villagers in 1994. At the time, he said,

the commune chief would not give him formal title, but he felt his purchase was still

valid.

The deputy commune chief, Om Noeun, said the police had not unfairly confiscated

the land. Tong, he said, had no title to the land and the police merely took the

land back for the person with the proper title.

However, Tong's neighbors in Roboss Angkanh village in Kien Svay district said the

land belonged to Tong, adding that many of them had lost their land to powerful people

over the past few years.

"We are worried about the practices of the police," said one villager.

"Each of us is concerned that we might be next to lose our land."

Land disputes are, according to a report by the Cambodia Development Resource Institute,

one of the country's "most pressing governance issues". The CDRI report

said the number of land grabs had increased dramatically over the past few years.

The problem has afflicted every one of Cambodia's provinces since the reintroduction

of private ownership of land and the emergence of an active land market.

Villagers in Roboss Angkanh said that the pattern of land grabbing in the area had

changed in the past few years from mass seizures of land to picking off individuals'

land one by one. Sixty-two-year-old Sum, a former soldier, explained that local police

target those families who lack influential friends.

The latest case is far from the first time villagers in the area have had problems

holding on to their land: in 1988 land was forcibly confiscated from residents, supposedly

to build a school, a hospital and a government building. None was eventually built,

and only some of the land was returned to the people, said a villager.

Another villager, 37-year-old Sopheap, said he is nervous when the police come round.

"I have such a headache about how I will protect my land," he said. "Tong

has lost his land and I don't know whether or when I will lose mine."

At press time Tong was still in jail. An official from human rights NGO ADHOC said

he was aware of Tong's situation and would start an investigation in a matter of

days.

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