Patrick Pierrat: special consultant
Patrick Pierrat is a consultant appointed by the Cambodian government working on resettlement issues. He is currently working on resettlement for families living on territory claimed by the Long Sreng Company as part of the privatisation of the Boeung Ket rubber plantation in Kampong Cham province, awarded to the company in 2007. Plans call for new homes, a school, a market and a health centre to be built for relocated families.
Last month, villagers and rights workers say, civilian and military police hired by the Long Sreng Company drove roughly 100 villagers from the disputed territory, injuring three. Pierrat says, however, that accounts of this land dispute have been biased in favor of villagers who have no legal claim to the territory. He spoke to the Post about the resettlement process in Kampong Cham and the issue of tenure rights in Cambodia.
Roughly 56 families say that land they have been farming for years has been claimed by the plantation. What is the status of this disagreement?
It’s true that we have 56 people that complained, but the list of 56 was compiled in May. Since then, there have been some people compensated by the plantation itself, and we are checking the list and where the land is located to be sure that it is on the plantation.
The process of the compensation is based on compensating permanent crops, so trees like rubber trees, fruit trees. But for non-permanent crops (e.g. rice), we give enough time for people to collect their crops and to stop. We are in 2010, so it’s already three years, and people are continuing to plant, so the owner of the plantation is now trying to get back the land because he has plans to replant it.
I’ve seen the term “eviction”. It’s not an eviction – we are not taking people and throwing them out. They are delivered compensation. The situation is still running – now we are taking care for this case, to see what’s happened and to have some information about the whereabouts of the people, the location of the land that they have. But we are still in the process, there is no final decision. The people will leave when they agree to leave.
Why aren’t these people eligible to gain tenure rights for their land under Cambodia’s 2001 Land Law, which allows people to apply for land titles if they have lived on a piece of land for at least five years without incident?
In 1999, this land was already determined as state private land. After the [Khmer Rouge period], these plantations were in fact state-run plantations, and the land was government land. After that, the plantations were organised and privately run, but the land belongs to the government.
It seems from reports that many of the families who claim they will be affected by the plantation are rice farmers. Would they have been aware that this land was part of a plantation when they first settled it?
In the case of the plantations, those plantations were established at the beginning of the last century. In the ’60s, those plantations were sold to a Cambodian company, and later on were nationalised. So, the war happens; the plantation was still there. It’s like if you speak of a factory – a factory remains a factory, so if people go inside and start to live in the factory and then you want to restart the industrial activity, you have to ask them to leave.
If the plantations were nationalised in the ’60s, with all that happened in the years that followed, do you think the lack of legal continuity presents a difficulty in claiming that this has always been state land?
The land never belongs to a government – the land belongs to the country, always, and the government is representing the country. In the interests of the country, for certain projects, the government can request that people leave certain land.
During the Khmer Rouge period, people were not even living there, because everybody was supposed to be in a different village. After that, there were some years when the country was starting to be reorganised. The situation was that the government had to rebuild the country, had to rebuild the economy, and one of the ways to get money was to sell rubber, so they restarted the rubber plantations.
At that time, the plantation had not enough resources to develop completely, so they left some part of the land not planted with rubber. People started to plant, and year after year, they started to think this was their land. But it’s not their land – they were living on the plantation’s land.
What of the people who resettled this territory without realising that it had been termed state land, and who perhaps lived for years without being informed of the steps to secure tenure rights? Do those people have a right to be frustrated?
Sure, that is a problem of information. 15 years ago, I don’t know what’s happened, I was not there, but since 2007, people have been informed. They had time to ask questions. When we start to compensate people for the permanent crops, we had some people that didn’t want even to come to register. And when we were making the process of paying the compensation, then they came. So it’s a matter of time for them to understand.
Interview conducted, condensed and edited by James O’Toole.