The Ministry of Land Management called a rare, last-minute press conference to defend its handling of land conflicts and to rebut a new NGO report that claims these disputes are rising again after an election-year lull.
On Tuesday, rights group Licadho said a “renewed wave” of land conflicts had affected more than 2,200 new families in the 13 provinces it monitors since the start of the year, more than four times the number of new families it found caught up in similar disputes over the same period in 2013, an election year.
Licadho also said that more than 500,000 people have been hurt by land conflicts in the same provinces since 2000. The organization called it a “shameful milestone.”
At Thursday’s press conference at the Ministry of Land Management, Secretary of State Sar Sovann flatly denied the half-million number. “The Ministry does not recognize this figure, it is not true,” he said.
Instead, he offered his own, far lower figure. Mr. Sovann said the government has about three million plots of land on record. For every 100, he said, there are 0.3 to 0.4 disputes. Using those numbers, there are, at most, 12,000 disputes nationwide.
He also argued that NGO figures were vastly inflated because they tended to file complaints over a single dispute with many government agencies and then count each filing as a separate dispute. He complained that Cambodia is getting unfairly picked on.
“I just came back from a World Bank meeting in America,” he said. “In Rwanda they have 2 to 3 percent [of disputes per 100 plots]. If we compare with Cambodia, who has more disputes? We have to consider, are they as famous [for land conflicts] as us? They are not as famous, but we are famous with 0.3 to 0.4 percent.”
Taking his turn, Secretary of State Lim Ron praised Prime Minister Hun Sen for a land titling push he initiated in mid-2012, officially called Order 01, to secure the tenure of families living on land prone to disputes. In the last two years, he said the government has issued 500,000 certificates, the first step to a full land title.
“So Order 01 has helped greatly to solve land disputes and secure possession for farmers and about 400,000 families,” he said.
Following the ministry’s impromptu press conference, Licadho defended its figures. If anything, Mr. Pilorge said, its figures were far too low.
“The figure of half-a-million Cambodians affected is based only on land conflicts that have been investigated by Licadho’s 13 provincial offices over the last 13 years,” she said. “This is only half the country and as such, the figure does not begin to represent the true number of individuals affected throughout the country.”
(Additional reporting by Zsombor Peter)