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Land-row vow sows doubts and hope

Villagers protest at Wat Chas pagoda in Chroy Changvar
Villagers protest at Wat Chas pagoda in Chroy Changvar last week to raise concerns over land disputes near their villages. Vireak Mai

Land-row vow sows doubts and hope

The parliamentary commission on human rights has promised villagers from four provinces embroiled in long-running land disputes that their problems will be solved in the next month, community representatives and a ruling party lawmaker said yesterday.

Villagers from Lorpeang in Kampong Chhnang province locked in a dispute with politically linked KDC International were told that their woes would be over within a week.

The intervention of lawmakers is the latest development in a seemingly re-energised effort to tackle the plethora of festering disputes in the Kingdom that was kick-started by Prime Minister Hun Sen last month when he publicly slammed his underlings for failing to resolve such conflicts.

The promise to the villagers – who had trekked to Phnom Penh to seek a solution directly from Hun Sen – came after the government awarded land titles to hundreds of Kratie villagers on Saturday, ending a years-long dispute.

Since the premier’s speech, which also led to the creation of a new interministerial committee to review economic land concessions, villagers from around the country have been loudly asking for restitution.

The Commission on Human Rights and Complaints yesterday called community representatives from disputes in Kampong Chhnang, Pailin, Battambang and Banteay Meanchey provinces to the National Assembly for separate meetings.

Villagers from Lorpeang, whose dispute has come to a head in recent months, were told that their longstanding issues would be solved in a week.

Lork Kheng, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party lawmaker and commission member that has also allegedly represented KDC in negotiations with community representatives, made that promise, villagers said.

“Lork Kheng said she would put an end to the dispute within one week,” Lorpeang community representative Reach Seyma said.

When reached yesterday, Lork Kheng said the commission was “determined” to settle all the disputes soon – including the KDC dispute “within one week” – and would act as a “coordinator” between all parties.

“The meeting can be held between the company, the people and human rights groups such as Adhoc and Licadho,” she said.

However, Seyma was not convinced that the dispute could be resolved in a week, “because it has been a controversial [issue] for years”.

The owner of KDC, Chea Kheng, is married to Minister of Mines and Energy Suy Sem, and villagers have accused local authorities of acting in concert with the company.

“Settling the matter within a week, unless it is settled with force like before, and settling the matter by offering real justice [in that time], will be impossible,” Seyma said.

He added that Lork Kheng said she would meet with the Kampong Chhnang provincial governor today to seek a solution. She also asked his community to return home, but they refused, because no agreement was signed, Seyma said.

The community appears to understand that their presence in Phnom Penh, in sight of Hun Sen, gives them leverage and a visibility that they wouldn’t otherwise have in the provinces.

“If they do this at the province, and invite us to meet them, only our representatives will go to meet them. When a settlement is reached, we will go back home.”

Other communities appeared to be less sceptical.

“His and Her Excellencies from the CPP and CNRP said they would settle this for us at the end of the month, because they have to settle the disputes in other provinces, and it will take up to one month to sort out Pailin,” said Ok Sam Ol, who represents a community locked in a dispute with Sophany Import-Export company.

“We hope the solution will be found, because we see people in Kratie province have had their dispute successfully settled,” she said, adding that her community would return back to Pailin today, though representatives would remain in Phnom Penh.

On Saturday, official land titles were handed over to hundreds of villagers from Kratie’s Snoul district, putting an end to a long-running dispute with a South Korean firm. Many of the group had been staying in Phnom Penh while seeking intervention, like the communities that met the commission yesterday.

Eng Chhay Eang, an opposition CNRP lawmaker and the recently appointed chairman of the commission, said that his members would “urge the relevant authorities to take rapid action” on the cases.

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