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Land Issues Creating Mistrust of Local Officials, Observers Say

Sam Souen, an 86 year-old Cambodian woman, holds a banner asking Prime Minister Hun Sen, seen in photo at left, to help solve the problem of land grabbing, file photo.

Despite a number of agencies dispatched to solve land dispute, rights workers say people continue to face forced evictions and rights abuses by land developments.

These problems are not being handled at the local level, fueling mistrust in local government, rights workers say.

Rights workers from myriad groups met in Phnom Penh Monday to discuss the continuing problem, which is exacerbated, they say, when local authorities fail to act—either out of fear from powerful officials or out of corruption.

“As low-level officials, how can they solve them when they see signatures given by the prime minister or statements by the Council of Ministers?” said Sok Sam Oeun, chairman of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, a coalition of rights groups.

That has created a situation where people have lost trust in local government and now come to Phnom Penh to protest, said Latt Ky, head of the land section of the rights group Adhoc.

Many land disputes are connected to high-ranking officials or military commander, “making the situation complicated for low-level officials to make decision,” he said.

An Haiya, a representative of a community in Koh Kong province that has faced eviction problems, said people there do no trust local authorities.

“We seem in the middle of nowhere right now,” he said. “We do not know where or whom we should seek to ask for help to solve our problem.”

Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management Ministry, denied such claims, saying that the efforts of the Cambodian government to solve the problems have been effective.

“We don’t know how those organizations collect data,” he said. “They have never come to cooperate with us and they are not ones to deal with the problems.”