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NA targets city land disputes

Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong talks to the media at the National Assembly
Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong talks to the media at the National Assembly yesterday after answering questions regarding land disputes and protests in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

NA targets city land disputes

Eighteen months after he vowed to resolve high-profile land disputes in the capital, Phnom Penh Governor Pa Socheatvong yesterday said authorities were “accelerating” to meet that as yet unfulfilled promise.

The governor spent three hours answering questions in front of the National Assembly’s human rights commission, chaired by opposition Cambodia National Rescue Party lawmaker Eng Chhay Eang.

Socheatvong told reporters waiting outside that authorities still wanted to speedily resolve the Boeung Kak lake and Borei Keila disputes, now six and four years running, respectively. He did not, however, set a deadline.

“Relevant authorities are accelerating the solutions for these disputes,” he said. “As we know, there are about 100 families in Borei Keila for whom we are looking to provide property solutions. At Boeung Kak, we will provide land on which 26 families can build houses.”

Socheatvong assumed Phnom Penh’s governorship in May 2013. Almost immediately, he promised resolutions to the city’s major land disputes. Land titles have since been given to some Boeung Kak families, but the disputes continue.

“The authorities are trying to resolve these issues by using legal mechanisms, administrative mechanism and by applying solutions offered by local and national cadastral offices,” Socheatvong said. “Some cases are dealt with by the local authorities, others are sent to court.”

Chhay Eang, the commission’s head, said he would closely monitor the situation to ensure Socheatvong kept his promise.

“We have asked him to use negotiations to find solutions, not evictions,” he said. “We will call him for further questioning if problems remain.”

Rights groups have commented on Socheatvong’s willingness to engage with land communities. However, the recent imprisonment of 11 activists, many of them women from Boeung Kak, has again fuelled scepticism.

“I think what Pa Socheatvong has said over and over again is in contrast to what he is doing,” said Bov Sophea, one of 13 Boeung Kak women imprisoned for a month in 2012 for protesting. The courts, she added, were not being used to resolve land-titling matters but to imprison activists.

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