Land ac­tivists seek so­lu­tions

The Phnom Penh Post - - NATIONAL - Soth Koem­soeurn

MORE than 700 land ac­tivists from the cap­i­tal, Preah Si­hanouk, Svay Rieng, Tbong Kh­mum, Preah Vi­hear and Kan­dal provinces gath­ered on Tues­day at Freedom Park in Ph­nom Penh’s Russey Keo dis­trict to de­liver pe­ti­tions seek­ing so­lu­tions to their long­stand­ing land dis­putes.

The ac­tivists said they in­tended to sub­mit their pe­ti­tions to the jus­tice, agri­cul­ture and land man­age­ment min­istries, the Na­tional Assem­bly and the newly es­tab­lished joint com­mit­tee at Prime Min­is­ter Hun Sen’s res­i­dence, but were rounded up by au­thor­i­ties and made to gather at the park.

They said some other ac­tivists who had ini­tially joined them were stopped half­way and paid to re­turn home. Jour­nal­ists, civil so­ci­ety groups and UN of­fi­cials were also barred from at­tend­ing the gath­er­ing.

You Veasna, who rep­re­sents com­mu­ni­ties locked in land dis­putes in Preah Si­hanouk prov­ince, said such is­sues are om­nipresent. He urged the au­thor­i­ties to seek so­lu­tions for villagers in­stead of trad­ing blame.

“[Min­is­ter of Land Man­age­ment, Ur­ban Plan­ning and Con­struc­tion] Chea Sophara has the real will to solve prob­lems, but other of­fi­cials do the op­po­site. They just point fingers at each other and push us around.

“Some of­fi­cials, for in­stance, re­fer us to a cer­tain in­sti­tu­tion but of­fi­cials at that in­sti­tu­tion re­fer us to other places for a so­lu­tion. Even­tu­ally, there is no com­pro­mise. It’s a shame that the gov­ern­ment em­ploys such of­fi­cials,” he said.

Veasna al­leged that long-run­ning land dis­putes are left un­solved be­cause the rel­e­vant au­thor­i­ties were afraid of well- con­nected busi­ness­peo­ple. He said the prac­tice had taken a toll on the villagers’ liveli­hood.

Lim So­phy, a com­mu­nity rep­re­sen­ta­tive from Koh Kong prov­ince, urged the au­thor­i­ties to re­lease land ac­tivists who have been im­pris­oned over dis­putes. She also ap­pealed for an im­me­di­ate end to in­tim­i­da­tion and threats against pro­test­ers through the ju­di­cial sys­tem.

“Gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials are not will­ing to solve land dis­putes. They al­ways point fingers and keep say­ing they are in­ves­ti­gat­ing. I’ve heard that for nearly 10 years and they still haven’t wrapped up their in­ves­ti­ga­tion!” she ex­claimed.

Rights group Ad­hoc spokesman Soe­ung Sen Karuna said on Tues­day that au­thor­i­ties at sub-na­tional level seem un­able to find speedy so­lu­tions be­cause some land dis­putes in­volved well-con- nected com­pa­nies and in­di­vid­u­als who grabbed the peo­ple’s land with­out proper com­pen­sa­tion.

“Com­pa­nies backed by pow­er­ful peo­ple make it hard for those with no power to seek jus­tice and so­lu­tions. In the past, such firms even paid gov­ern­ment of­fi­cials to sup­press the peo­ple. The law doesn’t seem to be very ef­fec­tive,” he said.

On Oc­to­ber 16, Hun Sen cre­ated a joint com­mit­tee to ac­cept land dis­pute-re­lated com­plaints and pe­ti­tions at his res­i­dence in Ph­nom Penh and in Kan­dal prov­ince’s Takhmao city.

Royal Cam­bo­dian Armed Forces deputy com­man­der and com­man­der of Hun Sen’s Body­guard Unit, Hing Bun Heang, was ap­pointed to head the com­mit­tee.

He told The Post on Tues­day that he was aware of the pro­test­ers’ gath­er­ing and is re­view­ing their pe­ti­tions.

PHA LINA

Over 700 land ac­tivists gather on Tues­day at the Ph­nom Penh’s Freedom Park to de­liver pe­ti­tions seek­ing so­lu­tions to their long­stand­ing land dis­putes.

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