After heaping criticism on rights group Licadho for allegedly exaggerating the seriousness of Cambodia’s land rights crisis last month, the government has released its own annual report on land disputes.
However, the report omits an overall figure for the number of disputes or affected families, making comparisons with Licadho’s findings difficult.
In a statement on February 19, Licadho said that land disputes had surged in 2014, after it received complaints involving more than 10,000 families. The figure had leapt from fewer than 3,500 in 2013, prompting condemnation from activists and claims the data were a “fabrication” from the government.
The government called on Licadho to submit its records for review, which the group did on Thursday.
In a letter the following day, the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction said that its own figures showed land disputes had significantly declined over the past few years, from 990 cases in 2013 to 750 cases last year, after the ministry “resolved” 240 cases. But its annual report released yesterday offered different figures still.
The government had ended 330 disputes covering a total area of 1,598 hectares and involving 2,432 families, it said. Twenty-four cases were dismissed and 62 withdrawn by the complainants, the report noted.
Ou Vordy, an undersecretary of state at the ministry, stressed the difficulty of assessing and mediating land disputes during the launch of the report yesterday.
“The process of solving the disputes takes a long time, because we need to conduct site inspections, and the land management of the dispute sides is unclear, and all of them want to win,” she said.
Bin Chhin, a deputy prime minister who includes land dispute resolution in his portfolio, said the government was hard at work to improve land management and distribution in the hopes of meeting its poverty reduction goals.
“We keep working towards land solutions through all of the national land management committees and administrative committees in order to reduce the number of land disputes,” he said.
But the government is working with insufficient data, according to Licadho.
Am Sam Ath, senior investigator at the rights group, said the government’s reliance only on official data from its agencies meant it was not in a position to assess the true scale of the current land rights crisis.
“I think the Ministry of Land Management should study our report and find resolutions for people who have suffered real land disputes,” he said.
Data released by Licadho last April showed that Cambodia had passed what it called a “shameful milestone”, with land conflicts having affected more than half a million people since 2000.