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Land feuds get top-level airing

May Titthara / Khmer Times Share:

Fifteen national and international organizations representing 38 civil society groups met with the National Assembly’s first commission yesterday to discuss eight major land dispute cases in an effort to find a solution for those affected. 
Seoung Sen Karona, a human rights monitor and investigator for rights group Adhoc, said the groups are seeking help from the government in addressing land disputes that have disproportionally affected local residents, who are at the mercy of corporations willing to take their land and deal with the legal consequences later.
“The eight major cases include Lor Peang, Beoung Pram, UDG, Sugar Cane, Se San 2 Dam, land in Pro May commune owned by indigenous citizens in Preah Vihear province, railway residents and the OCIC in Chroy Changvar district,” he said. 
“We are sharing this information to work together to find a solution for the people.”
He told reporters that the government has yet to find any remedy to the problem facing 528 Kouy ethnic minority families in Preah Vihear province’s Pro Mae village who have been involved in a land dispute with Chinese companies Lan Feng and Roy Feng, as well as Cambodian company Ly Heng, since 2012.
Authorities have been slow to address the complaints from the families, yet the company has been allowed to use its machinery to clear the families’ land before the dispute was settled, he said. 
“We met with the National Assembly’s First Commission, requesting them to help expedite, to competent authorities, resolutions [to] any dispute to quickly end the conflict for citizens,” he said. 
Eng Chhay Eang, the head of the assembly’s commission, said they spoke with NGO officials about natural resources and land disputes. The next step for the group, he said, was to come up with viable solutions.
“The National Assembly’s first commission has no role in solving problems. We just have the role of taking complaints and will forward them to the competent authorities to check and solve,” he said. 
“Parliament will monitor the solution.” 
He added that cases like the dispute in Kampong Chhnang province’s Lor Peang village – where more than 80 families have been embroiled in a long-running land dispute since 2007 with KDC, a company owned by Chea Kheng, the wife of the Mines and Energy Minister, had already been forwarded to the Land Management Ministry.
His working group has tried to coordinate a solution for the families for more than two years, but the relevant parties have refused to budge or make any concessions to the other side, he added. 
Prime Minister Hun Sen has publicly backed efforts by the government to resolve more land disputes, saying during a speech last August that any government ministers as well as provincial or city governors who ignored addressing the concerns or issues of citizens – particularly about land disputes – would be fired. 
“For land policy, we give the opportunity to do so,” he said. 
“But our officials seem not to listen or do not understand. I would like to remind [them] again. Those provinces have to [be] responsible for land disputes in their provinces.” 
According to a 2016 annual report from the Land Management Ministry, they received 757 complaints, 115 of which were solved.
Within the solved category, 44 cases had been dealt with completely, while 71 were turned over to relevant authorities. 
The Cadastral Commission said it ended 235 land disputes involving 1,271 families on a total area of 145.4 hectares. Investigations into 132 other cases led to dismissals, while 80 more cases were withdrawn. 
The NGO Forum published its own report last year detailing land disputes, finding that 158 companies had caused land disputes in 18 provinces and affected the lives of 35,604 families. Only 42 of the companies dealt with the government to resolve the disputes, it said. 
The Cambodian Center for Human Rights demanded the government intervene more often after finding that 98.2 percent of women involved in land disputes with private companies were suffering from serious psychological after-effects and nearly half of the women participating in their survey said they had thought about suicide.

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