Call for Better Handling of Land Disputes

Source: Khmer Times | Wed, 13 September 2016, by Pech Sotheary

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Beoung Kak villagers hold banners as they protest over their ongoing land dispute in front of the World Bank of ce in February. KT/ Chor Sokunthea

Civil society organizations yesterday repeated calls for land disputes to be resolved quickly, peacefully and without authorities using police and the courts to put pressure on communities.

Speaking at an event celebrating poor urban communities at the American Intercon School yesterday, more than 200 people, including representatives from affected communities around the capital, discussed the ongoing issue of forced evictions and what they can do to minimize potential violence and distress.

Sao Kosal, a technical program manager with local urban NGO Sahmakum Teang Tnaut, stressed that many of the problems surrounding land disputes were due to authorities not understanding the law.

“Land issues have happened mostly when law enforcement acts incorrectly, especially as the land management law clearly states how citizens have the right to own and build their houses,” he told the audience.

“But the law is not effective as law enforcement is not constructively effective, and we have found that issues stemming from corruption have made land dispute resolution even more difficult.”

Am Sam Ath, a senior coordinator at rights group Licadho, noted that protesting is a natural response when officials do not fulfill their obligations to properly resolve disputes and instead use repression, violence and the judicial system to punish communities.

“Governmental development requires that they start dealing with people properly and fairly, in ways that can be acceptable to citizens.”

He singled out the banning of protests and marches by authorities as a clear sign of overreaching their power and hindering Cambodians’ rights to freedom of expression.

Efforts by the government are appreciated, said Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community coordinator Theng Savoeun, highlighting the more than 30 commissions set up to resolve land disputes, but he added that things were still moving too slowly and were too political.

According to Land Minister Chea Sophara last month, there are only about 800 active land disputes in the country, down from 7,000 at the start of the year.

Kheu Lai, a former resident of the Borei Keila community who was forcibly evicted, told the audience about the hardships her family had faced after losing their house, land and livelihood.

She called on the government to better liaise with affected communities before they take any action, in order to explain what was planned and why, and to discuss compensation and relocation options.

Land Management Ministry spokesman Cheam Sophal Makara stressed that the government and the ministry were working hard to resolve disputes in accordance with Cambodia’s laws.

“Their statements were made because they have not seen the actual actions or the new solutions.  I think that their statements show concern, and they won’t feel concern if they see the action of our working groups to resolve disputes,” he told Khmer Times.

“The Land Ministry welcomes information on all the land problems of citizens and we will solve all of the people’s issues.”

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