Land Disputes Down in 2007, But More Villagers Sent to Jail

The overall number of land disputes declined in 2007, but the number of villagers jailed for their involvement in such disputes nearly doubled, according to a new report by local rights group Adhoc.

“Land disputes are still a hot issue,” Adhoc President Thun Saray said Wednesday morning at a press conference to launch his organization’s annual report for 2007.

Adhoc reported that 149 people were jailed in 2007 as a result of lawsuits over land disputes as well as protests regarding land disputes. This compares to 78 people jailed in 2006. However, the total number of land disputes decreased from 450 in 2006 to 382 in 2007.

The report also states that Adhoc received complaints from a total of 19,329 families involved in the land disputes, who were complaining about an aggregate 42,400 hectares of land.

Thun Saray said that the in­crease in the number of individuals jailed reflects a surge in forced evictions last year—which numbered 26, up from 16 in 2006—and the violent treatment of those who fought against their eviction.

Four people died in 2007 while fighting against land disputes, according to Adhoc.

Meanwhile, peaceful protests in Cambodia are dwindling in numbers due to widespread fears, Thun Saray said.

Mok Chito, Ministry of Interior penal police chief, said Wed­nesday that groups were compelled for financial reasons to report negatively about the human rights situation.

“It is their job to do that. If they do not do it, they will not get funding from donors,” he said, adding that police responded with force for good reason.

“We do not use violence until the villagers use it. We do not want them to gather in big groups because it causes disorder,” he said.

SRP Secretary-General Eng Chhay Eang appealed for those in pre-trial detention due to land disputes to receive swift attention from the court.

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