Cambodian land rights activists have accused Chinese investors of fueling land disputes through unscrupulous land acquisition and development.
The advocates made the comments during a two-day meeting in Phnom Penh earlier this month.
Yu Veasna, a land rights activist from Sihanoukville, said Chinese investors in the area had encroached on the Prek Toub lake in the town, which was the main water source for the local community.
Large-scale Chinese investment in Preah Sihanouk province in recent years has led to a backlash, with locals blaming Chinese investors for soaring property prices and worsening living conditions for Cambodians in the province.
“This is a big problem,” Veasna said. “Even if there are official land titles held for more than 20 years in an area the Chinese want, they will just create a new land title for it,” he added.
According to local NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC), some 20,000 families have suffered as a result of land disputes related to Chinese investment since 2003.
Sam Sophy, a representative of families in Koh Kong province’s Ta Noun commune, said villagers there involved in a dispute with China’s Union Development Group (UDG) had not been informed of the company’s development plans, which had led to scores of complaints on its 40,000-hectare concession.
“They did not discuss with the local residents. They did not invite any community representatives to talk. They only tell us to register our land lots with the company, measure it and accuse us of living on their lands,” he said.
UDG was granted a land lease in 2008 to develop a $3.8 billion multi-use tourism city in Botum Sakor and Kiri Sakor districts.
Theng Savoeun, CCFC director, said Chinese investment was the main challenge faced by vulnerable Cambodian landholders.
"This is the problem. Farmers will face a new problem while Chinese need to invest on the farming land. For example, land in Sihanoukville that belongs to Cambodians was claimed by Chinese and sold to Chinese," he said.
Meas Ny, a social analyst, told VOA Khmer that without judicial reform it would be difficult to make gains against land grabbing companies.
“I think it’s difficult if the justice system is still not independent. Citizens will suffer,” he said.
Sok Eysan, a ruling Cambodian People’s Party spokesman, said last week that the government was working to solve the tens of thousands of outstanding land disputes.
“The disputes were caused by a broker who grabs the land. So it is not easy to solve it. We are working so hard to solve it.”