11,000 Families Refile Old Land Dispute Complaints Nationwide

Rights group Adhoc on Wednesday helped 105 communities locked in long-running land disputes across the country refile their complaints with local courts and other state agencies in a concerted effort to push the government to finally resolve their cases.

Covering a broad cross-section of the country’s hundreds of active land disputes, the 105 cases include about 11,000 families fighting for a combined 26,500 hectares across 17 provinces, some of them for more than a decade.

By refiling them all at once, Adhoc hopes to grab the attention of top officials and spur the government into action.

“We are reminding the authorities of these long-running problems because some of the cases have been hurting people for a long time because the provincial and municipal authorities cannot solve the problem,” Adhoc president Thun Saray said at a press conference launching the campaign.

Of the 105 cases refiled by Adhoc Wednesday, 77 complaints went to provincial governors, 18 went to district or provincial cadastral commissions, and 10 went to provincial court.

Stella Anastasia, a technical assistant for Adhoc on land issues, said the families involved in the disputes decided who to refile their complaints with.

Even though they’re the same courts and government offices that have allegedly been dragging their feet on the cases for years, Ms. Anastasia said they still hoped the campaign would make a difference.

“We just want to remind the competent authorities that they have to comply with their responsibilities under the law,” she said.

Among the cases was that of Rong Ky, whose family is one of roughly 200 who accuse the Chinese-owned Union Development Group of kicking them off their farms in pursuit of the firm’s plans for a 36,000-hectare tourist resort in Koh Kong province.

“We have filed complaints at the district and provincial levels, but they have not found a solution for us since 2007,” Mr. Ky said at the press conference. “They [company employees] have come to destroy the people’s crops, but they have never come solved our problem.”

Local officials claim that the company has only cleared the farmland of families who have accepted the firm’s compensation offer.

During campaigning for last July’s national elections, Prime Minister Hun Sen made repeated promises to settle the country’s longsimmering land disputes. But in a statement about its new campaign, Adhoc dismissed the prime minister’s words as “little more than populist promises intended to win votes rather than make a real difference to people’s lives.”

Since the Khmer Rouge wiped out private land ownership in the 1970s and destroyed most related records, the Cambodian government has been slow to issue new titles to individuals, leaving millions on tenuous ground. Rights groups also accuse corrupt courts of ruling in favor of the powerful, well-connected business interests that farmers are often up against.

The government has, however, won some wary praise for placing a freeze on the granting of new land for industrial-scale farms and is currently in negotiations with the European Union to help families displaced by sugarcane plantations.

Beng Hong Socheat Khemro, spokesman for the Ministry of Land Management, declined to comment for this story and referred questions to National Cadastral Commission Director Lao Davuth, who could not be reached.

(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)

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