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Poll says land theft remains key concern

A recent public opinion poll revealed a high percentage of Cambodians who say someone has tried to steal their land in the past three years, prompting concern from rights groups yesterday.

Seven percent of Cambodians said someone had tried to steal all or part of their land, in a poll released on Friday by the International Republican Institute.

That percentage represents about 500,000 residents based on the Kingdom’s population of an estimated 14 million.

Five percent said at least part of their land had been stolen.

Ou Virak, president of the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, said those responses were “not just an opinion poll”.

“It’s actually things that have happened to them. I think that’s very significant”, he said.

The poll’s sample size of 2,000 is representative for the Cambodian population aged 18 or older by gender and province according to 2008 census data, said John Willis, IRI country director.

Matthieu Pellerin, a consultant for the rights group Licadho, said the percentage was a “huge” number that appeared to confirm recent data.

A 2009 Licadho report said more than 250,000 Cambodians in about half the country had been affected by land disputes between 2003 and 2008.

Ou Virak said he was “surprised” by the high percentage in the IRI poll, but said it was “scientific enough.”

Even with a margin of error of 2.2 percent, he said, three percent of people who had land stolen would still be “very high”.

The poll excluded those who might have an interest in its results, Willis said. People were disqualified if they or their family members were employed by media, the government or political parties.

Only seven percent of respondents in the survey said that land-grabbing was the issue they felt “most impacts” their daily life. But Ou Virak said “there is no way” the government could avoid the issue.

“When people lose… land, which affects them directly, these are people who are going to be holding grudges”, he said. “You have people feeling angry that their property is unjustly taken away”.

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