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Gov’t Moves to Resolve Land Disputes Ahead of Election

Families gathered to protest in a land dispute with Cambodian People’s Party’s tycoon senator Ly Yongphat, Phnom Penh, Cambodia, February 14, 2017. (Aun Chhengpor/VOA Khmer)

E.U. Ambassador George Edgar said in an email to VOA Khmer that the E.U. continues to take a “close interest” in the dispute resolution process.

The government has touted its progress in resolving land disputes between sugar plantation firms and affected residents in a meeting with European Union officials.

The attempt to highlight the positives of government policy in land disputes in Koh Kong, Kampong Speu, Preah Vihear and Oddar Meanchey provinces came after the authorities suspended the operations of NGO Equitable Cambodia, which researched and advocated for the land rights of victims of sugar plantations.

Officials told E.U. Ambassador George Edgar that they were working with affected families to solve complaints filed to the European Union in Koh Kong province, but it dismissed other disputes, which it said had no basis in evidence.

Speaking after the meeting on Tuesday, Edgar said the gathering had provided an opportunity for relevant parties to gain a better understanding of the resolution process.

“I think it’s because of concerns of the party buyers about exactly the issues that we’ve been here trying to resolve,” he said, referring to the drastic drop in sugar exports in recent years.

He said in an email to VOA Khmer that the E.U. continues to take a “close interest” in the dispute resolution process.

“In this context, we see it as important that all those NGOs that have been working on those issues over the last years, including Equitable Cambodia, be able to play a full part in the process,” he wrote.

In Kongchet, human rights coordinator at Adhoc said officials appeared to be taking a more vocal position on land rights in the run-up to next year’s general election compared with previous years.

“For the general elections in 2008 and 2013, we didn’t see officials from the national level came out actively to find the solutions,” he said.

“But we haven’t seen any significant result yet. Therefore, it’s because of concerns regarding the popularity of the party, the government and the ministries started to show off what they do in order to attract the support from the people,” he added.

Chea Sophara, land management minister, could not be reached for comment.

Phav Nheourng, a representative of 15 families in Koh Kong’s Sre Ambel district who are locked in a dispute with tycoon Heng Huy, said the authorities had recently resolved their long-running dispute.

“For the past eight years, I received serious pressure, meaning my family fell into deep poverty and my children couldn’t go to school,” she said.

“We were the victims of land violations committed by companies but we received criminal complaints and other complaints requesting our homes be destroyed. It was very difficult.”