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Unresolved Land Disputes Rising: Rights Coalition

A group of villagers lit incense, in Kampong Speu province.
A group of villagers lit incense, in Kampong Speu province.

Rights groups say they are concerned with a spike in reported land disputes that have gone unresolved under the current law.

The increasing number is because the government is providing economic land concessions while powerful government officials are also seizing land from the people, Chhith Sam Ath, executive director of the NGO Forum, told reporters Tuesday.

Land disputes reported to NGOs under the umbrella organization climbed 27 percent in 2009, from 173 cases in 2008, and another 32 percent in in first five months of 2010, according to the NGO Forum.

Nun Pheany, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, denied the reports that land disputes were increasing. The ministry received 5,000 complaints since the beginning of 2009 from 24 provinces and municipalities and has resolved 70 percent of them, he said.

In a joint statement issued Tuesday, the Coalitions of Civil Society Organizations said most land dispute cases were still unresolved.

“Most land dispute cases involve companies including both local and foreign investment companies as well as wealthy and powerful people,” the group said. “They affect large number of families and are mostly disputed with companies who obtained an economic land concession. It’s worth to note that in the past, land dispute cases usually involve dealing with violence and end up unresolved. Only few cases have been settled legally.”

The statement of concern comes ahead of a large donor meeting scheduled for Wednesday and Thursday.

The coalition recommended more participation of poor communities in land decisions, fair resolution and compensation in existing land disputes, a stronger resolution mechanism, a cease to arrests made in land disputes and the empowerment of authorities to solve land dispute cases.

“Please stop using the military or police forces to protect the company,” the group said.