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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Case shows land law enforcement is needed

Case shows land law enforcement is needed

A widow will appeal after being ordered to pay $20,000 to her upstairs neighbors

and hand them three-quarters of the property she has lived in for more than 20 years.

The Appeal Court decision handed down on July 26 was the latest in an ongoing saga

that has seen the neighbors locked in dispute over the Street 63 home for almost

a decade.

"Today the judge handed down the very worst result," said Keo Sovannavuth.

"He told me that I came here illegally and I would have to appeal to a higher

court. The judge did not even ask me any questions; he only asked the others."

Land-grabbing is one of Cambodia's most explosive issues, and it is disputes like

this that the long-awaited land law was drafted to clarify. More than five years

after its inception, Cambodia's land law was finally passed by the National Assembly

on July 20.

Protecting property rights in Cambodia is notoriously difficult, as Sovannavuth knows

only too well. She arrived here in 1979 and, like most other Phnom Penhois at that

time, moved into the first vacant house she could find, a villa on Monivong Boulevard.

"At that time Cambodian people just came and took any house," she said.

"People thought: 'Someone took my house, so I'll get someone else's.'"

A few months later, however, she had to leave after the house was earmarked for development

as a government office. She found a ground-level apartment for herself, her children

and relatives, and began rebuilding her life. The arrival of UNTAC pushed up property

values, and the neighbors upstairs demanded that she hand them part of the property.

When she refused, Sovan-navuth claimed that the neighbors started to intimidate her,

based on the fact that they had been in the property 10 months longer than she had.

This was followed by court action that she said displayed all the hallmarks of corruption.

Asian Development Bank Resident Representative, Urooj Malik, said that passing the

land law would be an important step in ending such disputes. "Given that we

now have a coherent law, such disputes should be easily resolved in the future,"

he said.

Malik stressed however that the law would need enforcement to be effective.

"The land law is part of the good governance structure of Cambodia and it needs

the support of the rule of law for people like this to be able stand by their property

rights," he said.

Sovannavuth said she would leave the house as soon as she had establish her ownership

of it.

"I want to sell this house because it has bad karma for me," she said.

"After the judge accused me of stealing their home I was in shock. I was speechless.

I almost fainted. How can I give them $20,000? I don't even have $100."

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