Commentators Say Land Reform Is a Failure

Land-grabbing is every­where in Cam­bodia, but Prasat Balang district in Kompong Thom may be one of the worst, NGOs said.

According to Thong Vibol, director of the Cam­bodian Human Rights Cen­ter in Kompong Thom, the Min­istry of Edu­cation recently re­quested district authorities to find 10 hectares of free land for Kom­pong Choeur Til School. On July 15, the government declared 100 hectares of land be­longing to villagers was state property. On July 16, villagers in Prasat Balang district rebelled, Thong Vibol said.

Leading political commentators said Tuesday that the government’s land registration efforts, combined with poor success in deligating power to com­mune councils, is accelerating land-grabbing in Cambodia.

“Land reform is a 100 percent failure,” Heav Veasna of the Center for Social Development said. He said that because commune counselors are loyal to political party bosses, they never intervene for locals when powerful officials want land.

“They back off from the problem of confronting high officials from the same party,” he said.

Koul Panha, the director of Con­frel, said Tues­day that there are many cases where commune councils ignored or did not defend local interests.

He said that the donor-funded de­centralization project is stuck be­cause no one will delegate actual power to the commune councils. And, he said, tax collection is still run by the central government.

Mao Yin, Adhoc’s chief in Kom­pong Thom province said Prasat Ba­laing district in particular has seen land-grabbing.

“Upon seeing documents from the provincial authorities, they agree,” he said. “They do not defend their local communities.”

He said that death threats circulate in the district to anyone rebelling against powerful men offering as little as $14 per hectare to villagers in Sala Visai and Tuol Kro­eul communes.

Yuk Oeun, the governor of Pra­sat Balaing said before approving any land transfer or sale, district authorities check with communes for conflict.

“We work based on the law, not based on political party. Critics might take a small problem and blow it up,” he said.


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