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Land dispute under spotlight

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Evictees watch a community building burn next to a sugar plantation in Oddar Meanchey during a 2009 eviction. CCHR released a report on Thursday on the experiences of local communities across three provinces who suffered rights violations as a result of land disputes. Photo supplied

Land dispute under spotlight

The Cambodian Center for Human Rights (CCHR) released a report on Thursday on the experiences of local communities across three provinces who suffered rights violations as a result of land disputes with companies operating in the Kingdom.

CCHR research teams conducted field visits to investigate land disputes with the three companies, Mitr Phol Sugar Company in Samrong district, Oddar Meanchey province; Socfin-KCD in Pech Chreada district, Mondulkiri province; and MDS Company in the MDS Thmor Da Special Economic Zone, Pursat province.

In its 37-page report, Preventing, Mitigating and Remedying Land-Related Rights Violations in the Kingdom of Cambodia: Seven Areas for Improvement, CCHR found that more than 800 families have been affected by Socfin-KCD, which intends to grow rubber trees and other crops on 2,386ha in Mondulkiri province for a 70-year period.

Most of the families that have been impacted are members of the Bunong indigenous community. At least 640 of them are currently involved in a land dispute resolution process.

In Pursat province, CCHR studied the conflict between villagers and the MDS Company, owned by tycoon Try Pheap, which runs the MDS Thmor Da Special Economic Zone over 2,265ha.

CCHR said 97 families from three villages have been affected, with 15 families still looking for a resolution to their land disputes.

In Oddar Meanchey province, approximately 712 households have been impacted by a land dispute with sugar company Mitr Phol, with 383 of those still awaiting a resolution.

CCHR identified seven areas in which companies needed to better respect the rights of local communities.

These included respecting property rights; conducting impact assessments; conducting consultations prior to the start of the development; the prohibition of using force and involuntary resettlement; allowing affected villagers to seek advocacy; ensuring a timely and effective remedy for the victims; and the introduction of additional, alternative and innovative dispute resolution processes.

Pech Chreada district governor Meul Soeun said on Monday that the land disputes between villagers and Socfin-KCD had been resolved. While Oddar Meanchey provincial Department of Land Management director Kim Kea Vin also said that land disputes with Mitr Phol were resolved.

Ministry of Environment Secretary of State Neth Pheaktra criticised the report on Monday, saying it did not represent the whole situation. He said all investment projects were conducted with environmental and social impact assessments (ESIA).

“ESIAs aim to make sure that developments do not have a negative impact on the environment and respect property rights, including consultations with people living in the area.

“Land disputes were resolved with transparency, and related parties are happy with the solution. We always invited NGOs working on human rights or land rights to observe the process, but some of them rejected the invitation.

“Some civil society organisations try to raise the dispute for their own interests, but the government continues to resolve the issues with transparency and responsibility,” he said.

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