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Better Late Than Never

M.H.Tee / Khmer Times Share:
Villagers with their land titles. Land disputes are being stroked by the opposition and some non- governmental organizations and also abetted by corrupt local officials. (Photo: World Bank)

PHNOM PENH (Khmer Times) – The issuance of land titles to 329 families in Kratie. speaks well of the government and its efforts to resolve land disputes in a timely manner.

The families concerned were locked in a bitter dispute with officials of the economic land concessions (ELCs) . Their repeated pleas and petitions to the local and national authorities fell on deaf ears until Prime Minister Hun Sen lambasted the incompetent officials on August 15. 

Only then did the wheels start moving, and the issuance of land titles on September 3 was, indeed, a welcome sign that things are beginning to change.

One can only hope that this does not open the floodgate for more disputes – real or orchestrated – to come to the forefront now that the government has started processing the claims.

The likely scenario is that more will come forward with various claims: some genuine, others frivolous. The key is to identify, tackle, and resolve these issues in the quickest and most transparent manner possible.

Corrupt – or incompetent officials – who have turned a blind eye and/or a deaf ear to the villagers locked in these disputes must be reprimanded or even suspended.

The issuance of the land titles also starts a potential roulette. Many of those issued land titles will approach the ELCs next to where these “disputed land parcels” are located. Then they will offer to sell them back to the ELCs.

They may then move on to another section of state-owned land and repeat the process, hoping  to profit from this scam and aided, to some extent by local authorities.

In one ELC in Kampot, officials, police and others entrusted to uphold the law turned out to be the owners of most of the titles carved out for the villagers.

These unscrupulous officials then sold the titles at various prices to whoever could afford to purchase them. 

The uniformed personnel are not the only ones to profit from this racket. The villagers also benefited enormously as they sold their land. The closer it was to a water source, the more expensive it became.

According to a rights organization report released on April 1 this year, the number of people affected by state-involved land conflicts in Cambodia since 2000 passed the half-million mark in March.

Rights group, the Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights  (LICADHO) said that the land conflicts took place between January 2000 and March 2014. They occurred almost entirely in the 13 provinces monitored by LICADHO, which represents roughly half the country.

In May 2012, Prime Minister Hun Sen issued Directive 001 – also known as Order 01BB – that stipulated “measures to strengthen and enhance the effectiveness of management of economic land concessions (ELCs)” and announced a moratorium on the granting of new ELCs. The review of existing ELCs and the implementation of the “leopard-tiger-skin” policy has the aim of allowing communities to live side by side with the concessions. 

In the framework of the implementation of Directive 001, youth volunteers implemented a new land registration campaign to speed up the process. This had previously been carried out – often ineffectually or sporadically – without systematic registration systems in place.

After the issuance of Directive 001, the number of newly granted ELCs dropped –  dramatically. While, in 2012, at least  2,657,470 hectares of land were granted to private companies, while no new ELCs were issued in 2013. 

On the contrary, government sources reported that more than 330,000 hectares have been seized from various ELCs in order to be redistributed to the people.

In 2013, according to data collected by the Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), 485 social land concessions (SLCs) were granted for a total of 626,823 hectares, as opposed to 38 SLCs totaling 100,790 hectares processed in 2012. 

To be continued.

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