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Communal Land Grant Process Too Slow, Says EU Ambassador

Jonathan Cox / Khmer Times Share:
European Union Ambassador George Edgar speaking at a press conference yesterday. KT/Mai Vireak

European Union Ambassador George Edgar yesterday criticized the slowness of the communal land title process introduced in 2001 to protect the ancestral forests and farmland of Cambodia’s indigenous groups.
 
Since it was introduced, only a handful of minority groups have secured communal land titles, he said.
 
“For the country as a whole there’s evidence that the process has been quite slow and quite difficult for the communities concerned,” he said. “It would be excellent if it would be possible to speed up the process of registration of communal land holdings.”
 
Communal titles set aside large areas of land for ancestral graveyards and spirit forests, where minority groups can hold religious ceremonies. The land titles also play a more practical role in the survival of indigenous groups by giving them enough space for traditional rotation farming.
 
While members of these minority ethnic groups such as the Kuoy in northern Cambodia are often able to get private land titles, getting communal land titles can be a long and difficult process. Only 11 of these titles have been granted since the communal title process was introduced in 2001, a minuscule amount of land when compared with the millions of hectares granted to businesses for economic land concessions.
 
Tech Vannara, executive director of NGO Forum, said that so far, the communal land titles have protected only a fraction of indigenous communities in Cambodia.
 
“They have registered 11 community land titles, but if compared to the whole indigenous community, it’s small,” he said. “How many years will it take to achieve land titles for all of them?”
 
Indigenous groups that attempt to apply for a land title can find themselves snarled in a bureaucratic process that can last months or even years, Mr. Vannara said. First, the villagers must register with the government to receive recognition as an indigenous group. Then they must submit an application for a communal land title that goes through three separate government ministries, before the Ministry of Interior finally decides whether to grant it.
 
While they wait for the legal title to their land, these villagers can sometimes see their ancestral forests destroyed to make way for farms or factories.
 
“There have been cases where indigenous people have either lost land where they’ve traditionally lived or lost land or forest areas to which they’ve traditionally had access, as a result of ELCs, SLCs [social land concessions] and of other changes in land use,” Ambassador Georges said yesterday.
 
“It’s a very big issue, and I … don’t think there’s an easy answer.”
 
Mr. Vannara said the land conflicts between indigenous groups and companies will not end until the government streamlines the communal land title application process.
 
“If they don’t have community land titles the conflicts will keep happening,” he said. “If the government can set up a fast process it will help the community protect their rights.”
 
The Ministry of Land Development could not be reached for comment.

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