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Land Issues Stump New Government

Six months after July’s national election, critics of the new administration of the Cambodian People’s Party say it has so far been incapable of solving the ongoing problem of land disputes.

This inability was underscored by the forced eviction—by tear gas and water cannon—of hundreds of Phnom Penh slum-dwellers in the Dey Krahorm neighborhood Saturday morning.

“I voted for the CPP, hoping this area would have justice and a fair resolution after the election,” said Horn Sar, a 49-year-old evictee of Dey Krahorm. “But right now, I’ve met with injustice through eviction. So I request Prime Minister Hun Sen to protect justice for the poor Dey Krahorm residents.”

The CPP took 90 of 123 National Assembly seats in the July 27 election, but they have so far done little to deal with the concerns of people like Horn Sar, who are at risk of displacement and land grabs, rights workers say.

“One hundred and forty land dispute cases were promised to be solved by the ruling officials during the election campaign,” said Chan Soveth, deputy chief of investigation for the rights group Adhoc. “But those cases are still a concern and cannot be solved at all.”

Local institutions, such as land dispute committees, as well as the National Authority for the Resolution of Land Disputes, have proven incapable of solving the problem, Chan Soveth said. “So six months after the election, land disputes have no result and have no resolution.”

Ouk Virak, head of the Cambodian Center for Human Rights, agreed.

“The government has no real willingness to solve the land disputes,” he said. “The authorities continue to use violence in the eviction of the people from their houses, especially in the case of Dey Krahorm. Before the election, the authorities allowed the people to protest land-grabbing, in order to get votes from the people. But after the election, we haven’t seen results coming from the result of the vote. So the government has fallen down.”

On Saturday, armed riot police fired tear gas and water cannons to evict hundreds of residents from Dey Krahorm, razing an area that had been part of an ongoing land dispute with developer 7NG.

Residents say they have not been fairly compensated by the development company. 7NG representatives say the company has offered each family an apartment on outskirts of Phnom Penh. Hundreds of Dey Krahorm evictees gathered on Monday and Tuesday in front of the National Assembly, seeking monetary compensation instead of an apartment.

“We don’t want to get the house from the company, because in that place the housing is not proper and we can’t make business, have no schools, and have not enough water and electricity and no toilets,” said Kim Hong, 58, a Dey Krahorm evictee.

Cheam Yiep, a CPP National Assembly lawmaker, said the government was capable of solving the disputes, but could not solve the thousands of cases before it in only six months. Resolution of the disputes was a priority, he said, “because Prime Minister Hun Sen is not happy about land grabbing by powerful men or rich men, or those who make injustice for farmers or ordinary people.”