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Land disputes centre stage at capital forum

A broad spectrum of villager representatives, civil society organisations and government officials – large land-concession holders among them – met in the capital for the ninth year in a row yesterday to discuss the Kingdom’s seemingly intractable issue of land disputes.

The latest iteration of the event once again called for an expedient solution to ongoing disputes and registration issues and for a thorough study to be launched into the social and environmental effects of large-scale economic land concessions (ELCs).

Lorn Savy, a land and forest community representative from Pursat province, said that while authorities often give cases of alleged abuse a cursory examination, solutions are seldom found.

“Once the community faces challenges, they [authorities] only inspect the cases . . . not many solutions have been figured out,” she said.

NGO Forum executive director Tek Vannara yesterday held that it was the government’s responsibility to measure land, create a standardised land compensation policy and monitor environmental and social impacts.

Ruling-party Senator and land concessionaire Mong Reththy, whose companies were placed on a Ministry of Environment watch list in March for purportedly failing to live up to investment provisions, said a lack of understanding between parties had slowed solutions to land disputes.

“We need time to understand each other . . . Sometimes, the demanders ask for too much, and sometimes, the demanders ask for less, but they still do not get the claim,” he said.

Land Management Ministry spokesman Sarun Rithear welcomed suggestions, but said that existing government mechanisms were by and large doing their job.

“For land registration, we have completed four million plots of land and many land disputes have been ended as well. We will continue solving those problems. We accept this appeal,” he said.

Environment Ministry spokesman Sao Sopheap said the ministry works with communities affected by ELCs in protected areas in order to “take into account the priority of the people”.

But Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee chief Suon Bunsak, echoing a longstanding criticism of the government, said that while there are laws on the books, the failure of authorities to respect them remains an obstacle.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY ALESSANDRO MARAZZI SASSOON

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