A Senate commission has started an investigation into land disputes in 11 provinces based on data provided to it by local rights group Licadho despite officials publicly denying the group’s findings at the time.
A February report by Licadho said there had been a surge in land disputes in 2014, affecting nearly 50,000 people.
In late March, the group released data that showed land concessions covering 2.1 million hectares had been handed out to mostly foreign-owned firms, and appealed to the government to publicly release its own data on economic land concessions.
Weeks after government officials publicly denied the accuracy of the Licadho report and called for the group to provide further details, the ruling party-dominated Senate yesterday began an investigation into disputes in Kampong Thom, Oddar Meanchey, Kampot, Kampong Speu, Banteay Meanchey, Battambang, Kampong Chhnang, Svay Rieng, Tbong Khmum, Preah Sihanouk and Siem Reap provinces, said Kong Korn, a Sam Rainsy Party senator who chairs the Commission on Human Rights.
“Land disputes are important, because they involve the people and the country’s development, so we have to pay more attention to solve them, and the law must bring justice to the families as well,” he said.
The Senate delegation began its probe in Kampong Thom province yesterday, Korn added, by investigating 12 land disputes there. However, he said, eight of the cases had already been resolved with the affected villagers.
The remaining four “are disputes between the people and economic land concessionaires who are confronting each other, which has led to a crackdown, evictions, arrests and detentions”, he said.
A disabled villager in the province’s Santuk district, Dorn Sina, who was evicted from her land by a merchant, welcomed the Senate probe yesterday.
“I have filed complaints to the Senate before and hoped they would come to help people like me who are in a difficult situation, since the local authorities don’t care about us,” she said.
Kampong Thom Governor Uth Sam Orn said the provincial government was “working with the relevant subjects” and would file a report to the Senate commission.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator for Licadho, said: “This is a good thing that the Senate has begun its work to find solutions for the people, because land disputes are a hot issue and chronic.”