BATTAMBANG - Military, police, civil and NGO leaders have begun addressing the contentious
issue of land use in Cambodia's northwest - specifically, the seizure of demined
land by authorities.
Included in a two-day meeting here June 23-24 were representatives from the ministries
of interior, defense, rural development and land titles and NGOs and UN agencies
charged with resettlement programs.
A paper prepared by the Banteay Meanchey Rural Development Department said that demined
areas intended for landless families were being seized by officials claiming that
the land belongs to them.
Returning displaced villagers had also found their land had been allocated by military
officers for their own families and friends.
CMAC chairman Ieng Mouly reaffirmed CMAC's mandate of turning over demined land to
internally displaced people, landless farmers, refugees and poor soldiers' families,
"There are often some misunderstandings which give rise to disputes between
the humanitarian purpose and goals among the mine clearance organizations and the
real use of the land after it has been released," he said.
A case in point not far from where the meeting took place - a chili pepper farm is
managed alongside Route 10 by a RCAF lieutenant colonel on demined land that was
originally intended for people made landless from war.
"The reason we are here today is that CMAC is steadily clearing land all over
Cambodia, but CMAC has no authority to allocate the cleared and released land,"
CMAC Director Sam Sotha said: "The time has come for CMAC to address the needs
of areas that used to be under military control where there are often conflicting
land claims between civilians and the military."
One Western participant praised the proceedings: "The workshop was a success.
CMAC publicly admitted its problems and brought the issue of land use into public
Land speculation was not an issue in Boeung Trakoun, deep in the heart of bandit
country. Here the problem is technical.
Several months ago, a woman working her CMAC-demined land set off a mine that left
her with serious facial wounds. A CMAC team that returned to the "demined"
area found five more unexploded mines. This put a definite crimp in the resettlement
At the Battambang workshop, Sotha said that CMAC maintains a clearance rate of 99.6%,
the UN's standard.
"[This] means for every 1,000 mines cleared, 4 mines are missed; for every 10,000
mines cleared, 40 mines are missed. Forty mines means 40 victims. That is 40 victims
too many. The farmers will not dare to return to their land if our standard is 99.6%,"
"At CMAC it is our deep feeling that we must try our best to clear the minefields
to a level of 100% safety, this means zero victims."