Protestors find treetop perch crowded, but secure and dry.
company part-owned by the son-in-law of Senate President Chea Sim has ignored Prime
Minister Hun Sen's May 19, 1999 written order demanding local authorities give land
back to villagers of Kampong Cham's Rokah Por Pram Commune.
More than125 protesters, representing families from seven villages in the commune,
arrived in Phnom Penh on Wednesday March 22 to ask government officials to resolve
their case. They have been camped outside the the National Assembly ever since.
They said that in 1997 a group of local authorities in Kampong Cham, led by Thbong
Khmum's District Director of Agriculture, Kit Hong, seized 2000 hectares of land
from some 300 families in the commune.
Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC) said Hong seized the land in a scheme to transfer ownership
to a rubber company owned by Khaou Chuly MKK Co Ltd.
When contacted by the Post, Khaou Chuly's President, and Chea Sim's son-in-law, Oknha
Khaou Phallaboth, said the company was not directly involved in the dispute.
Phallaboth said he and some other individuals were trying to develop 600 hectares
of the land under dispute in Kampong Cham, independent of the Khaou Chuly company.
It is a very complicated issue, said Phallaboth. Because the case is before the National
Land Disputes Tribunal, which he expects will make a judgment soon, he did not want
to comment on the matter.
Hong's group obtained about 400 land title certificates for the 2000 hectares then
settled some 25 families on the seized land. In 1999 these families began making
official claims to the land.
The families who lost their land protested vigorously and seemed to win their case
when Hun Sen personally intervened.
In the May 1999 directive the Prime Minister wrote: "I decide to give all land
back to the people, and where people used to live, give that land to the people.
The Government cancels all the decisions made by the local authorities and the people
from the Land Titles Department.
"The provincial authorities must give the land back to the people and the new
complainants must move away from the land," wrote Hun Sen.
As a result of the Prime Minister's intervention, 1700 of the 2000 seized hectares
were returned, but Hong and his people still cling to the remaining 300 hectares
Kay Vanthut, a 47-year-old farmer from Kampong Cham, is the leader of the protesters
outside the National Assembly. Vanthut said many men forced off their land have had
to seek work in Thailand as there are few employment opportunities in Cambodia. "It
is mostly women and children left at my village and many of them are down here to
protest," he said.
"In Thailand they work as laborers and are treated like slaves. Some of the
men have been arrested by the Thais for entering the country illegally....it has
been very difficult."
"We thought with the letter from Hun Sen our problem was solved, but it is not
and that is why we are here to ask for help from the National Assembly.
"We are not against the Government. We just want to see the local authorities
in Kampong Cham follow the orders of Hun Sen. If they obey his orders then my people
will get their land back and they will be able to farm it and support their families,"
Kampong Cham's Second Deputy Governor Mao Phirun said he told the protetsters not
to come to Phnom Penh. He offered about $80 to the families placed on the disputed
land by Kit Hong's group to move. "The protesters can stay in Phnom Penh, but
nobody there will solve their problems," said Phirun.
George Cooper, a consultant with Legal Aid of Cambodia (LAC) said: "It is hard
to get these things taken seriously, to get a relevant official to say something
clearly enough so that the protesters can go home."
Hun Sen's May 1999 order is significant, said LAC, because it was the first mass
cancellation of illegal land title certificates held by powerful people.
"Cambodia is awash in illegal land titles which, regardless of their dubious
origins, are considered inviolate making it virtually impossible to obtain their
cancellation," said LAC.
According to Cambodian law, the holders of these certificates must be in physical
possession of the land and in the Rokah Por Pram Commune case, they are not.
When the Kampong Cham provincial land dispute committee investigated these certificates,
most people whose names were on the certificates didn't know where the land to which
they had title was located, said LAC.