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City Hall axes land dept head

Boeung Kak lake community activists demonstrate in support of jailed activist Yorm Bopha
Boeung Kak lake community activists demonstrate in support of jailed activist Yorm Bopha in front of the Supreme Court. HENG CHIVOAN

City Hall axes land dept head

Faced with a series of longstanding, unresolved land disputes in the capital such as those at Boeung Kak lake and Borei Keila, City Hall said yesterday that its cadastral office is changing directors.

The move came as City Hall yesterday renewed as yet unfulfilled pledges to find solutions for the evictees of one of those high-profile disputes.

Phnom Penh municipal spokesman Long Dimanche said that Chhay Rithisen, director of the city’s Department of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction, will be replaced by his deputy director, Chea Srun.

Dimanche did not provide a reason for the replacement.

When contacted, Srun stressed that the official nomination was yet to be made. “I do not know whether it is true or not,” he said.

Chhay Rithisen could not be reached for comment.

Am Sam Ath, director of technical investigations at rights group Licadho, said that while replacing government and ministry officials was standard procedure, he believed that in Rithisen’s case the change was linked to the land-dispute deadlock.

“Many land disputes in Phnom Penh and the lack of a solution are the reasons behind the replacement. It is a reformation of the government,” he said.

Boeung Kak villagers said they believed the land dispute standstill was caused more by a lack of impetus on behalf of those higher up rather than by inattentive land management officials.

“For me, the unsolved land dispute is caused by … [more senior] Phnom Penh municipal officials and government leaders,” Boeung Kak community activist Tep Vanny said, adding that replacing Rithisen was just another bureaucratic way for the municipal governor to postpone solving the problem.

In a meeting with representatives from Boeung Kak yesterday, the municipal governor, Pa Socheatvong, reiterated his promise to allot land titles to those families still awaiting them.

The governor said that 32 of 76 village families would get land titles soon, after their house locations are measured this morning.

“We’ve heard that many, many times,” Sia Phearum, secretariat director of the Housing Rights Task Force, said.

“So far, the ruling party always has good promises, but in the end, they all fall short on the commitment.”

On assuming the role of governor in May, Socheatvong promised to resolve the capital’s main land disputes.

Only three weeks later, municipal authorities unleashed a water cannon on protesters who were blocking the capital’s Monivong Boulevard during a protest demanding the governor follow through on his promise.

Phearum had ambivalent feelings about the replacement of Rithisen, whose office in the past had refused to collaborate with his organisation.

“We will have to wait and see with the new person if he will deliver on the promises and show we can trust him,” Phearum said.

ADDITIONAL REPORTING BY LAIGNEE BARRON

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