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Secret Deals Fuel Land Conflicts: Rights Workers

The secretive nature of land deals inside Cambodia leads to problems down the road, with villagers rarely able to find out what might happen to them when a big business comes to their area, a leading rights worker said Thursday.

“When the company has not yet started, we see that people don’t know whether or how much the company’s activities will affect them, because they don’t have documents,” said Ny Chakrya, head of the land rights program for Adhoc.

“That’s why we see that when the company starts activities in accordance to what they have requested from the government, we always see them facing conflict with the people,” he said, speaking as a guest on “Hello VOA.” “That means when they start, it always violates the land of the people.”

Cambodia has been roiled by land disputes in recent years, as government officials seek to bolster economic growth through agricultural deals that often put businesses, factories or plantations in conflict with local residents.

Protests, violence and arrests often follow, and rights workers warn the continued situation could be a source of instability for the country’s security.

Much of the conflict comes from non-disclosure of government agreements or deals, Ny Chakrya said Thursday.

“Generally, a concession document should be public for people to know in the area what the government offered the company as a concession,” he said. “That’s in order to let people understand the goals and tasks of the private company, and what sort of obligation they must fulfill. However, it’s regretful that the government hasn’t given over such documents to let us know.”

It’s rare for a company to gain a land concession from the government and not have a conflict with the locals, he said.

According to the Ministry of Agriculture, more than 200 companies have been granted concessions by the government. Some have followed up with activity, but some have not.

Suon Sareth, executive secretary of the Cambodian Human Rights Action Committee, said the government should cancel contracts and withdraw land from companies that do not act on their concessions.

“The purpose of granting economic land concessions is in part to help reduce poverty,” he said. “If there has not been a response to this purpose, please take back the land for other services, for the sake of the nation.”

Suon Sareth said non-governmental organizations are now working with the National Assembly to draft Right to Information bill.