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Land rights case sets precedent

Land rights case sets precedent

A landmark legal decison is expected today which will decide the fate of up to 200

families in Kampot who are facing losing their land to an army general.

The families have occupied the land for generations and have proper legal titles

to the land but General Meach Man and his wife Uan Sary claim the land is theirs.

Ea Sopheap, the Legal Aid of Cambodia attorney for the first family to try and safeguard

the ownership of their small plot of land, Tuan Sann and Kim Sokun, said that the

general claims the land is his based on the fact that he commanded a military unit

that was based in the village to fight against the Khmer Rouge up till the 1990s.

He said the case is important not just for his client's future, but it will also

raise the important issue of whether military officers can take for their own property

that once had a military purpose.

He said the general and his wife have obtained a certificate of title to the land

dated 1996, but Sopheap doubts its validity.

He said that there was never a proper land survey done, the neighbors were not interviewed

as was required by law nor were inquiries made to establish if the ownership of the

land was being disputed.

Furthermore, he said that the man who signed the certificate as the commune chief

did not hold the position and was not entitled to sign it.

He said that Man's unit occupied a small house in the village during the battles

with the Khmer Rouge and on this basis he has tried to obtain a certificate of title

for the surrounding land that they never occupied or used.

He added that one of their strongest legal arguments would be that is against the

law for government employees to claim land in this way.

The Government can only take and use land for the public good not for personal gain.

Sopheap said the action "reflects a common problem throughout Cambodia of powerful

military officers evicting poor people with the excuse that the land is needed for

the army, but actually the officers want the land for their own personal exploitation."

He said it appears that the general has been planning to try and progressively take

over land from other villagers so it is important that this case is won.

Sopheap's legal assistant Am Sokha attended Monday's trial. He said everyone was

happy with how it proceeded but he could not predict the outcome.

"We were happy with the hearing but I cannot guess the mind of the Judge,"

he said.

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