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Tea Banh: ‘Outside pressure’ triggering Koh Kong disputes

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Families from Koh Kong province protest at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction this month. Heng Chivoan

Tea Banh: ‘Outside pressure’ triggering Koh Kong disputes

Tea Banh, the Minister of National Defence and head of a national working group in Koh Kong province, said on Tuesday that national and local authorities were working to solve land disputes in the province but that protests were “triggered by outside pressure”.

He was speaking after the working group issued a report which found that in the three months from April to June, there were 48 protests related to land disputes involving Chinese developer Union Development Group (UDG), Wildlife Alliance and special economic zones.

The report said land disputes remained an important concern because incitement from outsiders had caused instability in the province and Phnom Penh.

Banh told The Post that the working group had attempted to help at the grassroots level throughout the province and relevant authorities had been investigating and resolving land disputes. “We continue to carry out our work as there are a lot of people who need land.

“The authorities and those who are responsible for land have to manage it correctly in line with the law and the people’s needs,” he said.

The authorities, Banh said, have been carrying out a thorough investigation into people who he claimed regularly incited villagers to protest in Koh Kong province and Phnom Penh, causing insecurity and instability.

“I have recommended that action be taken under the law. Otherwise, public order will continue to be affected. This is something we have to do,” Banh said.

Koh Kong provincial spokesman Sok Sothy said several land disputes remain unresolved because some villagers were demanding excessive compensation while protesters were incited by outsiders.

“There have been incitements to protest from outsiders such as NGOs, and some ill-intentioned people try to create political heat. Some people just came to buy land to sell at a higher price in the future. In line with our policy, we will not deal with them.

“About 10 to 20 per cent of genuine land disputes remain unresolved in development areas and other parts of Koh Kong province, but the working group and relevant authorities are continuing to resolve these issues,” he said.

Mean Prummony, provincial coordinator for rights group Adhoc dismissed the assertion that NGOs and ill-intentioned people had provoked villagers to protest.

He claimed that the allegations were baseless and that the protesters had demonstrated peacefully. “No one incited the people to protest about their land disputes but they did so as they have genuinely lost their land.

“We, a civil society organisation, have observed the gatherings and their protests were according to the laws stipulated in the Constitution and the laws on peaceful demonstrations. There is no one behind them . . . it’s just that they’ve suffered the loss of their land,” Prummony said.

Earlier this month, some 500 villagers representing 1,317 families from three districts in Koh Kong province gathered to protest at the Ministry of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction in the capital to demand that it intervenes to solve their land disputes.

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