Senior Minister in charge of Special Missions Ly Thuch announced yesterday that a land dispute resolution task force will be created for Ratanakkiri province, although observers said the move was coming too late.
In line with Prime Minister Hun Sen’s instructions to resolve land disputes related to economic land concessions (ELCs), Thuch said “citizens need land to do farming, so [we are] asking the ELC owners to share the land with villagers in favour of the villagers”.
“We ask the [provincial] authorities to create a task force group to finalise the land disputes, taking care of the citizens’ interests the most,” he said in speeches to crowds of mostly ethnic minority citizens in Taveng and Andong Meas districts on Monday and Tuesday.
Authorities must respond to the needs of the people, however they must be locals, he continued – migrants from other areas will be viewed as land grabbers. “[Hun Sen] offers ownership to specifically local people,” he said.
To ensure this, Thuch recommended that authorities clearly demarcate village, commune and district boundaries. Villagers, he continued, are encouraged to make phone calls to their local authorities, asking for intervention in any disputes.
Phat Sambath, Andong Meas deputy district governor, who attended Thuch’s speech, said that the creation of the task force would reflect the will of the people.
“Villagers want ownership of the forest like before. They want a lot of ancient land and forest,” Sambath said. “The villagers do not want the government to give land to companies.”
Pan Kirivuth a security employee of the Swift Rubber Company in O’Chum district, however, maintained that villagers tend to grab land granted to companies by contract, especially land that remains untouched.
“When the people grab [land], how can the company grow to meet the contract with the government?” he said.
However, companies’ use of government contracts made with disregard for villagers is the main obstacle to dispute resolution, according to Chhay Thy, the provincial coordinator for rights groups Adhoc.
“So far we’ve got 65 cases of land disputes from the people in Ratanakkiri province, but we saw only seven cases have been properly solved. This because of the company relies on the investment contract,” Thy said.
As for the task force’s promised directive to side with the people, Thy said it seemed to come too late given that for many their land has already been cleared by companies.