Local authorities have been urged to step up efforts to solve land disputes ahead of July’s general election to stop protesters gathering in Phnom Penh.
In a statement this week, Minister of Interior Sar Kheng instructed local administrations to “increase thorough monitoring and management of developing situations concerning the issue of land conflict” to prevent “people from coming together and submit petitions in Phnom Penh.”
The statement also noted that Phnom Penh authorities had been ordered to immediately report any planned demonstrations in the capital and to arrange for their return to their homes.
In recent weeks, hundreds of villagers involved in land disputes have traveled to Phnom Penh to lobby the government ahead of the election, leading to clashes between the protesters and security forces.
Notably, Chea Sophara, land management minister, pledged to solve a dispute between villagers in Koh Kong province and two plantation firms.
Am Sam Ath, head of local rights group Licadho’s investigations unit, said the aim of the order was to stop protests from reaching the capital during a tense election period.
He welcomed the commitment to solving land disputes, but added that “if the authorities at the sub-national level and provincial level had made efforts to solve land disputes in the beginning, perhaps it would not be such a hot issue.”