Interior Minister Sar Kheng urged the new minister of land management, urban planning and development, Chea Sophara, to cut down on land disputes involving poor and indigenous families during a handover ceremony yesterday, casting a wary eye toward the national elections in two years’ time.
Land disputes between poor communities and government-backed companies have been among the most high-profile rights issues in Cambodia over the past decade, affecting hundreds of thousands of people across the country. They have also been one of the opposition CNRP’s most powerful arguments against the ruling CPP, helping it nearly claw to power in 2013.
Mr. Sophara’s move to the Ministry of Land Management, replacing Im Chhun Lim, is part of a rare mid-term reshuffle of ministers, which was approved by the CPP-dominated National Assembly on Monday.
“I want to ask all officials to strengthen their transparency and organize land registration…for indigenous people, too, in 2018, because some NGOs accuse the government of taking villagers’ land for private companies,” Mr. Kheng said during a ceremony at the Land Management Ministry in Phnom Penh on Tuesday afternoon.
“I ask you to resolve all complaints from villagers who have disputes with private developers, and to facilitate land concessions for the poor and former soldiers and to give land to people who really don’t have land,” he said.
At the handover ceremony, Mr. Sophara vowed to do his part.
“I promise to work for everyone who demands more speed and transparency, to register land for indigenous people, to stop illegal management on state land and the violation of villagers’ land, and to find justice,” he said.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs held its own handover ceremony yesterday, where the long-serving Foreign Minister Hor Namhong was officially replaced by Prak Sokhon, who had been serving as the minister of post and telecommunications.
The CPP is selling the reshuffle as an opportunity to reenergize several ministries with new blood and new ideas. The opposition has dismissed the move as political theater, however, arguing that the new ministers are all ruling party stalwarts with nothing new to offer.