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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Rights groups echo PM's fear of farmer revolution

Rights groups echo PM's fear of farmer revolution

The government's continued failure to resolve escalating land disputes between ethnic

minority groups and powerful individuals and companies could spark revolution, said

local NGOs and civil society groups.

"This is one of our concerns that we must pay attention to," Thun Saray,

president of rights group Adhoc told the Post on February 7, "It is possible

a [revolution] will happen in the future if the government continues to ignore this

issue."

Civil society groups felt compelled to express their concerns as they do not want

the country to be destabilized, said Yeng Virak, executive director of Community

Legal Education Center (CLEC).

"If we avoid the problem it will escalate," Virak said. "We are concerned

that the people will revolt in the future if authorities fail to resolve land disputes

effectively. The Prime Minister had already warned his staff to be careful of a farmer's

revolution."

In December 2005, Prime Minister Hun Sen warned government officials, businesses

people and armed forces that illegal land seizure must stop, or there would be a

"farmers" revolution against the government.

Yet over the course of 2006 the government conceded hundreds of thousands of hectares

to private companies.

This must halt unless proper studies of the social and environment impact of the

concessions are completed before they are awarded, Saray said.

"Thousand of families are becoming poorer because they are losing their job

and are being displaced," said an Adhoc report released on January 31, "Their

children are unable to go to school after the demolition of their homes, which forces

them to move out of the city and resettle in indecent and improper infrastructures."

The rights groups have requested a discussion of the issue at the 9th meeting of

the Government-Donor Cooperation Committee on February 12.

A frank discussion of the issue is essential as wherever there are government development

projects there are always land disputes, said Meas Nee, an advisor of Village Focus

International.

Chea Sophara, secretary of state at Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and

Construction and general secretary of the Council of Land Policy, said that this

was not the case.

"The government has a target of halting all illegal land grabbing," he

said at the National Seminar on Indigenous People and Access to Land in Cambodia.

"This is our policy and we are preparing to resolve the land issue by transparent

and fair means."

Comprehensive reports of land grabbing in indigenous minority communities in Ratanakkiri

were also released during the February 7 seminar in an attempt to inform the government

of the scale of the problem.

Chhit Sam Ath, executive director of NGO Forum said 15 provinces were severely affected

by land grabbing.

"The problem has progressed to the stage where some communities have disintegrated,"

Sam Ath said. "There has already been a serve loss of cultural and social resources."

Bang Ngan, coordinator of Indigenous Community Support Organization said the land

grabbing by rich and powerful people, particularly of indigenous land in Ratanakkiri

province started in 1998. It has become a major problem as ethic minority people

- who make up the bulk of Ratanakkiri's inhabitants - do not understand the law or

their rights, and they are afraid of rich and powerful people who come to take their

land.

"The minority people have filed many complaints to authorities and the court

but they did not provide proper solution and justice for them," Ngan said, "Hundreds

of private companies have bought the land in Ratanakkiri. If there is no intervention

from the government in the future ethic minority people will become slaves of those

companies."

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