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Stats show disputes still far from ‘solved’

Minister of Environment, Say Samal speaks to the press after a National Assembly hearing last week in Phnom Penh.
Minister of Environment, Say Samal speaks to the press after a National Assembly hearing last week in Phnom Penh. Pha Lina

Stats show disputes still far from ‘solved’

New land dispute cases may have dipped last year but are far from eliminated, new data from rights group Licadho suggest.

Last week, Environment Minister Say Samal said government efforts had essentially solved land woes stemming from the Kingdom’s economic land concessions, which cover more than two million hectares and have been the source of numerous disputes between villagers and companies.

According to figures from Licadho’s internal database obtained this week, the group investigated 70 new dispute cases in 2016, affecting about 9,300 families. Of the 70, 10 were related to government-granted economic land concessions (ELCs).

The figure marks a drop from 2015, when the NGO investigated 97 new cases 19 related to ELCs which affected roughly 10,500 people.

The statistics do not include ongoing cases previously logged by the group, which estimated almost 49,519 individuals in 2014 were impacted by land disputes, which often involve politically connected companies.

Reached yesterday, Samal said his ministry and the Ministry of Land Management and Urban Planning had catalogued all current ELCs and were working their way through settling disputes.

“The reason why I used the term ‘it has been solved’ is that there are no more conflicts,” Samal said.

“The rest of problems leave only the procedures to register them, the procedures to register them land titles and the procedures of identifying those people, that’s all.

“We do it throughout the country; it takes some time and costs money.”

Sous Vannak, who investigates land disputes for rights NGO Adhoc, said though ELCs were “quiet”, land disputes were far from solved.

“Land grabbing is still increasing . . . new disputes come from old ELCs,” said Vannak, who also said military units were often responsible for displacing communities.

Mekong Region Land Governance researcher Jean-Christophe Diepart said it appeared the government was taking land conflict more seriously.

However, the biggest problem, he said, was the lack of strategy about how to accommodate the needs of smallholder farmers as the country develops and competition for land increases.

“They are really trying to address this, so I would not be surprised to see this translated into improvement in the figures,” Diepart said. “People will continue to need land for the next 15 and 20 years building fences, providing titles and doing zoning in protected areas, this is not an answer that will address the fundamental reasons for conflict.”

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