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Newly Titled Communities Hope to Protect More Than Just Traditions

Aisha Down / Khmer Times Share:
Senior Minister of Land Management Im Chhun Lim giving land titles to community members during Saturday’s ceremony.

KRATIE (Khmer Times) – After three years of processing, two Phnong villages in northern Kratie province finally received community land titles on Saturday, the first to do so in Kratie province. Currently, there are two more villages with community land titles in Ratanakiri, and seven in Mondulkiri, making eleven in all of Cambodia.

The titles, says Keo Manbi Laen, the man in charge of Kratie’s ministry of land titling, were issued quickly and without any problems in the process.

“They asked for the titles four months ago,” Mr. Manbi Laen said. “The process was very fast—we worked really quickly to prepare everything for them. Four months is quite quick.”

Village authorities, on the other hand, say that they’ve been attempting to request the land for years already. “We began the process in 2011,” says Moos Sok, of the village committee of O Kork. 

The giving of the titles was marked by a ceremony in Ponchatea village, Kratie, presided by the provincial governor, Sar Chamrong, and Senior Minister of Land Management Im Chhun Lim.

The two villages, Ponchatea and O Kork, received between them 999 hectares, says Son Sarith, governor of the Sambor district of Kratie. Village authorities confirmed that some of the land is forest, and some has been cleared previously by companies in the area.

The right of indigenous communities to hold collective land titles was established in the 2001 Cambodian Land Laws, and confirmed in the 2002 forest law. The titles were designed to allow Cambodia’s indigenous people to continue to use Cambodian land in more traditional ways–for shifting cultivation, and to extract forest products such as yellow resin.

However, Pochatea’s intentions for the new land are not to engage in traditional agriculture. Rather, after facing a number of land issues, among them an ELC clearing some 160 hectares of village land in 2013 in order to plant cassava, the village of Pochatea intends to keep the land as a protective measure against future problems.

“We’re keeping it for our grandchildren,” says Leum Pon, a community member. “We’re keeping the land for our people—in the future, if they don’t have land, or if other land of theirs is taken, our community members can come to plant on this land.”

Mr. Sarith says that there have not been any serious problems with land issues in the area during the process. “The land is being given to our brothers, the Phnong indigenous people, in order to allow them to support their traditions and society,” he said.  “The important thing is that they can use the land as a community.”

Mr. Laen affirms that there have been no recent land issues in O Krieng commune. 

“I cannot recall if there were problems earlier on, but it seems to me there’ve never been any,” he said.

In O Kork, meanwhile, Mr. Sok of the village committee says that they have not had problems with companies so much as company workers encroaching on village land for private reasons.

“They don’t clear our land,” he said, “but they take it and build their houses on it.”

Mr. Pon remarked that, in the Phnong tradition, land is divided into family plots and not kept communally. However, the village intends to manage the land communally at present, and has elected a committee of 15 to oversee its use and represent the village to the authorities. 

“We don’t know how exactly they’ll use the land,” says Mr. Sarith. “The important thing is that it supports their society, and that they don’t cut away land for personal use.”

“If we didn’t have this community land title,” says Mr. Pon, “we’d be quite afraid. A company could come, clear our land, and make it their own.”

Senior Minister of Land Management Im Chhun Lim handing out more land titles.

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