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Logo of Phnom Penh Post newspaper Phnom Penh Post - Social land concessions climb

Former Borei Keila resident Yim Mady carries her child past the wreckage of homes demolished by local authorities in the community in 2012
Former Borei Keila resident Yim Mady carries her child past the wreckage of homes demolished by local authorities in the community in 2012. Heng Chivoan

Social land concessions climb

More than 40 fresh land rows have emerged across the country – and many more could be going unreported, the Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) said yesterday.

A study CCHR conducted into land conflicts between 2011 and 2013 has resulted in the rights group publishing an updated online map, showing 41 new disputes in 17 locations, including the capital. Previously, CCHR had listed 223 land conflicts across the country in the four years from 2007.

The organisation’s research also shows that while the granting of economic land concessions has halted – as per a 2012 moratorium ordered by Prime Minister Hun Sen – fives times the number of social land concessions (SLCs) were granted in 2013 than 2012.

Many of the new land disputes came to CCHR’s attention after July’s national election, land reform coordinator Vann Sophath told the Post.

“From after the election until December, we found [a number of] cases,” he said.

“In Kampong Speu, a company has tried to grab people’s land. [Elsewhere], a company has grabbed collective land.”

In a statement released earlier yesterday, Sophath said there were likely “many more” disputes not being reported.

“We can clearly see that, while the number of ELCs has diminished, the number of SLCs has kept increasing,” he said. “This is a worrying trend, as we know that many people have been evicted to make way [for] SLCs.… It is increasingly clear that the moratorium does not mean the end of the land conflict in Cambodia.”

SLCs are the granting of private state land for residential or farming purposes. Recipients can include the homeless, those affected by natural disasters, former soldiers and military widows.

CCHR said it did “not contend that the information published is conclusive; on the contrary, it is expected that this information represents only a small proportion of land cases that occur in Cambodia”.

Data it has compiled, though, show that 420 SLCs were granted in 2013, compared with only 83 the year before.

As an example of how the SLC process can go wrong, Sophath told the Post, local authorities in Mondulkiri had granted an SLC to “newcomers”, who then fell into conflict with indigenous people in the area.

“For every concession, they should think of the impact on the people,” he said.

Phay Siphan, spokesman for the Council of Ministers, did not believe the number of land disputes was increasing.

NGOs, he added, had a tendency to focus on the “quantity” of disputes rather than the “quality” initiatives, such as grassroots forums, the government was using to resolve conflicts.

“We stopped giving away ELCs, and we have been giving people titles,” he said. “We’ve started paying more attention to SLCs, [because] we want to make sure everyone has land.”

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