The newly appointed minister of land management and urban planning, Chea Sophara, has announced a working group to handle petitions and complaints lodged by land dispute victims.
In a letter dated April 8, Sophara appointed 11 officials to the new committee, which includes staff from the ministry’s cadastral, legislation, planning and finance, and land inspection departments.
“The working group has the duty to meet and receive related petitions from protesters, coordinate and solve issues, suggest solutions and must create relationships with disputants to get additional information,” Sophara said in the statement.
Sophara tasked the new group with monitoring the disputes until they were resolved. This would involve making regular reports for the ministry.
Appointed last week amid a cabinet reshuffle, Sophara, a former Phnom Penh governor whose city beautification projects saw scores of ethnically Vietnamese squatters evicted from the capital, vowed to tackle the country’s endemic land dispute problem at a hand-over ceremony last Wednesday.
Met with guarded optimism by rights groups, the announcement comes amid a flurry of community groups from across the country heading to Phnom Penh to seek Prime Minister Hun Sen’s intervention to solve their disputes. The premier’s intervention in some cases recently has ignited hope among villagers who have lost land.
Noting the many committees already formed to deal with land disputes, Equitable Cambodia executive director Eang Vuthy hoped the new minister would be given the political capital to get results. “We want to see the ministry has the power to address the problem, not just a few people,” Vuthy said.
Rights group Licadho’s technical coordinator Am Sam Ath agreed. “We are waiting to see if there is the willingness to solve problems,” he said.
Chhan Mony, a member of a community in Battambang province’s Bavel district which recently sought help in Phnom Penh for their land dispute, said he was sceptical.
As of yesterday, their petition, submitted to the ministry and parliament in March, remained unanswered, Mony said.
“If they just create groups to make them look good, without fairly assessing villagers’ reasons and without actually going out to investigate the disputes, the people will remain victims of injustice,” Mony said.
Additional reporting by Shaun Turton