Land disputes remain a chronic issue that has affected more than 20,000 families across the country, with some cases allegedly involving authorities who collude with traders or private firms to grab people’s land, a report released by the NGO Coalition of Cambodian Farmer Community (CCFC) says.
CCFC president Theng Savoeun said on Monday that from 2013 to 2017, there were more than 20,000 families affected directly and indirectly by land disputes.
He said land grabbing is threatening the survival of farmers who depend on the occupation as their main source of income.
National Community Workshop on Land Disputes and Community Advocacy was held in Phnom Penh on October 22-23.
It was attended farmer community representatives from the capital and Preah Sihanouk, Kampong Speu, Koh Kong, Kandal, Tbong Khmum, Svay Rieng, Preah Vihear, and Banteay Meanchey provinces.
Savoeun said the workshop aimed to shed light on challenging issues, including concerns related to land disputes, human rights violations and the loss of natural resources across communities in each province.
It also shared NGO experiences in land dispute interventions.
“First, without consulting with the people, the government grants economic land concessions to private companies that fail to comply with the law. The companies take over the land without providing compensation for the people."
“Second, when land price increases, brokers or powerful individuals produce [fake] documentation and send their workers to clear land. Some even collude with local authorities to grab land and sell it to traders.”
According to CCFC, Cambodian-owned companies have a combined land concession of 924,896ha in 114 locations. Vietnamese firms have 356,560ha in 55 locations, and Chinese companies have 369,107ha in 42 locations.
When contacted, Minister of Land Management, Urban Planning and Construction Chea Sophara dismissed Savoeun’s claims as baseless. He also mocked The Post’s reporter for citing Savoeun’s report.
“You just heard what they said [and wrote a story], what’s the point? Putting whatever they said in a story is cheap, unworthy. Where are the documentation and evidence to support claims that they are affected?"
“Where are the locations … the affected locations? Are they really the victims or actually the ones who grabbed private or state land?” he asked.
However, Hy Ra, one of the 104 people who attended the workshop, echoed Savoeun’s claims that land disputes have affected people across the country because of collusion between private companies and authorities who grabbed the people’s land for personal gain.
“Because the authorities conspired with traders in a systemic way, it is very hard for us to complain to get justice, so it affects our livelihood."
“And because of a huge influx of Chinese nationals, land prices have shot up, prompting wealthy and powerful people to grab the people’s land,” he claimed.
Rights group Adhoc’s senior investigator Soeng Sen Karuna claimed it is common for the government to reject civil society’s reports.
“Civil society groups have conducted research and data analysis and worked directly with the people."
“But in some cases, the authorities don’t build a rapport with the people who ultimately have no confidence in them either. That’s why some cases have not reached the authorities,” he claimed.
He also alleged that the authorities have protected the interests of private companies and powerful individuals in return for benefits.