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Ceremony touches on land title chaos

Ceremony touches on land title chaos

IN the first major public display of an attempt to solve one of the most pressing

problems facing the bulk of Cambodia's population, a land title deeds registration

display ceremony was held on Aug 8 in Srey Ta Sok village in Takeo Province.

Under the direction of the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction

(MoLUC), 111 family representatives were allowed to review title deeds for 566 separate

plots of land, a process, according to villagers and officials, that will protect

their legal property rights and avoid land grabs or disputes in the future.

"I think that getting land title deeds will reduce disputes or land grabbing,

but it also gives us confidence and a warm feeling to hold pieces of land that no

one can take from us," said Yin Norn, 47, one of the villagers who participated

in the event.

The ceremony was presided over by the Minister to the Council of Ministers, Sok An,

who said reducing land disputes would help encourage more foreign investment into

Cambodia.

Minister Im Chhun Lim, speaking to the assembled villagers and after thanking the

German and Finnish governments for their support for the project, said his ministry

had undertaken a variety of steps in leading up to the day's ceremony, which included

the systematic production of cadastral maps (defining boundaries and land ownership),

a review of existing land registration papers and the registration of owners' proper

names. Three separate teams from MoLUC and been working with villagers to undertake

the process.

Starting from Aug 8, according to Chhun Lim, villagers would have one month "to

participate in the survey and verification and to make counterclaims in case of finding

a certain parcel data are not clear or incomplete."

Chhun Lim called on all concerned citizens to check the maps and land register, saying

his staff would be available for one month, even on holidays, to receive any claims

and to try to resolve any disputes by mediation and mutual agreement. Any unresolved

claims would be sent to a court for ajudication.

Srey Ta Tok village chief Sin Sokly was especially pleased to note that the villagers

didn't have to pay even one riel to the land title deeds officers who had come to

publicize the papers.

Still, many villagers were concerned about the related issue of taxes on land.

"Do you know if they will ask us to pay land taxes like before," Neak Lay,

a villager from Dom Nak Troyoeung village asked the Post.

Yin Norn said that during the 1998 election campaign politicians, especially those

from the CPP, had said that if they won they would not demand taxes on land used

for agircultural purposes.

Nong Me, 65, from Kvao village, was also concerned. "Usually if they make land

title deeds they will demand taxes from us. That was the situation during the French

colonial time and even during the Sihanouk time," he said.

"We live under the Government. We respect the Government policy, but if they

demand too much it will affect our livelihoods."

Speaking in Phnom Penh, Ang Eng Tong, president of the Cambodian Bar Association,

while applauding the recent move to settle land disputes, said the tax issue was

a delicate one.

"Taxation should be appropriate, like pulling feathers from a goose carefully

so that it doesn't cry," Eng Thong said.

Sok An, for his part, confirmed that the within the current Government policy, land

used for agriculture purposes would not be taxed.

In the meantime, thousands of Cambodians are still struggling with land problems.

Officials at Legal Aid for Cambodia (LAC) say the existing land-related caseload

is around 15,000 and growing. From January to June this year LAC says its own organization

has received 220 complaints.

Thus, while the Government seems to have got the ball rolling on tackling the land

problem, solving disputes and issuing proper land registration papers nationwide

remains an enormous undertaking.

Sok An said at the ceremony that the Government would need $100 million to complete

land title processing.

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