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Land disputes again on rise

Land disputes again on rise

A girl collects recyclables in September near a row of shacks where people evicted from Burnt Bridge Village in 2007 now live, behind Otres beach in Preah Sihanouk province.

The number of land disputes involving more than five households resumed its upward trajectory last year, after a temporary dip in 2009, a report by NGO Forum said yesterday, noting that in addition to the 28 new cases last year, there were 254 unresolved cases from previous years.

It said there were 18 new land disputes in 2009 and 48 in 2008, when the number of new disputes peaked. The report, Statistical Analysis on Land Disputes in Cambodia 2010, also found that land disputes most often occurred in area where economic growth was robust.

It follows three other reports earlier this month on evictions in Cambodia, and scores more produced by international and Cambodian NGOs since 1999, when NGO Forum published its first land-dispute report: “Where Has All the Land Gone?”

“It is difficult to answer the question about what effects these reports have,” Chhith Sam Ath, executive director at NGO Forum, told the Post yesterday. “The discussion [about land disputes] has widened, and the government is more involved in the discussions,” he said. “There is more consultation.”

Pan Reagsey, head of NGO Forum’s land program, noted that more than half of the land disputes involved people in positions of power and wealth, most of whom claimed land poor people were living on. 
Wives of ministers, senators and business people connected to the ruling Cambodian People’s Party have been frequently accused of land grabbing, but their names were absent from NGO Forum’s latest report.

It said the data could be used “to improve and/or advocate for enhancing land tenure security of the poor and vulnerable people”, but made no mention of the warning it received in August from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs over its advocacy on behalf of communities that have been or will be relocated to make way for the rehabilitation of the Kingdom’s railway lines.

The report identified Preah Sihanouk as the province where the most forced evictions occurred, followed by Phnom Penh.  It also identified agricultural land as the primary source of disputes – 53 percent of all cases. Disputes over residential land account for 24 percent of cases, while 10 percent of disputes were over forest land.

Economic land concessions were linked to rising landlessness, which was identified as a cause of widespread poverty for rural Cambodians. The three provinces most affected were Kratie, Rattanakiri and Kampong Speu, the report said.

Ouch Leng, head of the land program at rights group Adhoc, said the government rushed to sign sub-decrees granting land concessions to private companies with no consideration of how they affected villagers.

“The prime minister signs these decrees, so it is up to him to solve these problems,” Ouch Leng said.


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