Citizens from across the Kingdom converge on the capital to file complaints over what they say are unfair land concessions.
ABOUT 300 Cambodians from 19 different provinces converged on the capital Tuesday to lodge complaints with a variety of government institutions in the hope of securing official intervention in land disputes across the country.
Several villagers told the Post on Tuesday that they had travelled to Phnom Penh because they want the government to cancel economic land concessions that they claim have stolen community land and sapped local resources.
Villagers emphasised that the purpose of their visit was to seek a solution, not to vent anger. "We are not here to protest - we have come to ask for government help," said 51-year-old Mom Sakim from Kratie province.
She claimed that 110 families in her district were involved in a dispute with a private company over a 1,000-hectare land concession.
"We stopped believing that local authorities would help us, so we decided to come to Phnom Penh, and we hope that the government will not ignore this matter," she said.
Villagers separated into several groups of about 40 to 50, then went off to file thumbprint petitions with the National Assembly, Prime Minister Hun Sen's Cabinet, the Council of Ministers, the Ministry of Interior, the National Authority for Resolving Land Disputes, the Ministry of Agriculture, Forestry and Fisheries, and the Ministry of Environment.
JOINING TOGETHER TO RAISE ... CONCERNS IS A GOOD METHOD FOR US TO INFORM OUR LEADERS ABOUT OUR PROBLEMS.
"We don't oppose development projects, but their implementation should benefit both companies and residents," Mom Sakim said, adding thatmany development projects near her community had infringed upon local farmland.
Seng Sok Heng travelled to Phnom Penh from the northwestern province of Oddar Meanchey. He said he has participated in similar events in the past, but that this is the largest gathering of displaced landowners he has ever seen.
"Joining together to raise these concerns is a good method for us to inform our leaders about our problems," Seng Sok Heng said. "Every year, more and more people are facing land disputes. The impact on local communities continues to increase."
Am Sam Ath, monitor for the local rights group Licadho, said that land disputes are one the most pressing issues for poor Cambodians today, both rural and urban.
"The government needs to make a final ruling on these matters," Am Sam Ath said. "Individual disputes may get resolved, but overall, the cases just keep piling up."
Chan Tong Yves, a secretary of state at the Ministry of Agriculture, said that before granting land concessions, the ministry studies the proposed
location, conducts environmental-impact assessments, and holds talks with local and community leaders.
"Normally, local villagers always claim that [land concessions] impact them negatively, while the company claims that nothing will happen," he said.
"There is no reason to believe that all villagers who live near these concessions are negatively impacted. We will have to go back and look at each case on an individual basis."
According to a ministry report from November 2008, some 65 companies had received government land grants comprising 895,176 hectares.
Seng Sok Heng estimated that about 100 people nationwide have been arrested in cases related to land disputes, and that one purpose of Tuesday's gathering was to urge the release of those prisoners.
The villagers plan to hold the press conference today to publicly express their concerns to the government.